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Articles by Yosef Cohen
ゥ Joe Cohen 1990.  Used by permission.
Fame Vote would do Maris justice


by Joe Cohen
as appeared in Sunday Sports - The Chicago Sun-Times
January 7, 1990

John F. Kennedy took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1961, becoming the 35th president of the United States. Near the end of his inauguration address he said, "With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love...'   (listen to mp3 audio)

One month later, a young man went forth to the New York Yankee baseball spring training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla. His name was Roger Maris and in the summer ahead he would hit 61 home runs.

In 1961, baseball players didn't make the huge salaries as they do these days. Any rehabilitation was for injuries suffered by a player from the game, not from the use of drugs.

In 1961 we saw some real hot bats. That's baseball bats...not bets.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, 1961, at Yankee Stadium, Maris hit his 61st home run. President Kennedy sent Maris a telegram that read, "My heartiest congratulations to you on hitting your 61st home run. The American people will always admire a man who overcomes great pressure to achieve an outstanding goal."

Controversy surrounded Maris's feat. Some would say that he had 162 games to hit 61 home runs, which did not break Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in 154 games in 1927.

Maybe Maris did not break the record of Ruth, but he clearly set a record that has not been broken.

Before 1961, a complete baseball season had 154 games. Because the American League expanded in 1961, the season was increased to 162 games.

At the end of the 154th game of that season, with eight games to be played, Maris had hit 59 home runs. That was one more than Jimmie Foxx's 58 in 1932, and one more that Hank Greenberg's 58 homers in 1938, and just one short of tying Ruth.

At the end of Game 154 in 1961, Roger Maris had 14 fewer at bats that Foxx did in 1932, clearly breaking Foxx's record.

There are far more important issues than baseball, but there has never been an issue as important and as critical as justice.

On July 21, 1984, Maris was honored at Yankee Stadium and his jersey number (no. 9) was retired. Maris died of cancer at the age of 51 on Dec. 14, 1985. He has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In January, the Baseball Writers of America will determine by vote who should be honored at Cooperstown. If as President Kennedy said, history is the final judge of our deeds, then good conscience should give Maris, for 61 in '61, his place in the Hall of Fame.

* * * * *

Joe Cohen is a long-time baseball fan. He lives in Chicago.

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