61*: Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and one magical summer

Is a coffee table book (9 x 12) written by Ron Smith (2001) of The Sporting News that chronicles, week by week, the home run chase to beat Babe Ruth’s record of sixty. Set in 1927, Ruth’s record is arguably the most famous record ever. Moreover, Ruth is probably the most well-known person in the history of the world! Before Trump.

The book is fantastic. The stats are all there, day by day – almost pitch by pitch. As well as real time quotes from the media, coaches, and ballplayers. Maris, Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, teammates, manager Ralph Houk, rivals, and The Press.

A Magical Season?

Rogar Maris:

People hate me for breaking Ruth’s record – the press especially.

I play hard, I train hard, I like baseball.

I was born surly and I intend to go on being that way.

Nobody knows how tired I am.

Joe DiMaggio:

He’ll have to be able to handle the pressure, because he’s going to have plenty of it.

Ralph Houk:

Roger’s exhaustion isn’t physical, it’s mental.

A lot of people remember the home runs, but he was a great ballplayer and a great family man. He was modest and winning came above any personal statistic.

The Media

was self-serving then. As it is now.

Maris was portrayed nationally as an ungrateful villain and New York columnist Jimmy Cannon labeled him ‘Maris the Whiner’, charging that he was jealous of Mantle.

[Maris] sank deeper and deeper into a defiant shell that would define the remainder of his career. (p. 147)

[Maris] emerged from the shadows as an embittered home run king, unloved, resentful and betrayed by his greatest success.

The other [Mantle] limped into the 1962 sunshine, a wounded hero who would be lovingly embraced by formerly critical fans because of his most celebrated failure. (p. 145)

My Thoughts

are that if you love baseball and have been excited about Aaron Judge’s historic 62 homer season (2022, sixty-one years after Mantle and Maris’s “magical season”) – you should read this book.

It doesn’t attempt to analyze but simply report what happened. In addition, the pictures are amazing.

Man about town


Mantle went out of his way to accommodate fans and media. Mantle became a familiar face among the New York social crowd. … money was no object, whether throwing team parties or picking up monster tabs at local establishments. (p.20-1)


Obviously the two men had vastly different personalities from Aaron Judge. Judge, who the media adores, is a “proper” hero who fits neatly into the current cultural standards of humble and grateful, with abundant grace. Number 99 never has a bad word to say about anyone or thing.

The thing is – both Maris and Mantle died young. Maris from cancer at age 51, and Mantle from alcoholism at age 63. This is mentioned at the end of the book. But no connection is made to their “magical” season chasing the legend of Babe Ruth.

Looking back, I don’t think the season was magical. It was tragic. Both men were country boys thrust into the bright lights of New York city celebrity; and were ill-equipped to handle the pressure.

This is a five-star read. Not just about baseball, but also about America, men and culture, and personality.


8 thoughts on “61*: Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and one magical summer

  1. Interesting! It’s another cultural double-edged sword, isn’t it. OTOH, the focused excitement of watching a player (or a team) work to achieve a new record. OTOH, that focus and fame puts an uncomfortably hot spotlight on people and often ends up being too much for them. (We were just talking about Marilyn Monroe. Actors and athletes are common victims. Media has a lot to answer for.)

    1. Yes, but nothing changes. If anything it’s gotten worse. What with social media and the internet. The media now in a frenetic scrum for attention and money. And now everyone can complete. How many millions?
      Agreed, all is a double edged sword.
      Wasn’t there a play, Damn Yankees? Where one makes a deal with the Devil?
      The Maris / Mantle saga seems especially sad – they just wanted to play ball. I didn’t know what I was watching at the time. I was ten. Elvis was another hero of mine.

      1. Absolutely! The internet magnifies things enormously. Giving everyone a voice has consequences.

        Yeah, Damn Yankees was a musical about an ordinary guy who makes a deal with the devil to become a star player for the Senators. I’ve never seen the play or the movie, but I’ve heard about it.

        Amy Winehouse is another example.

  2. Any diving into the depth of a person, beyond performance, is fascinating, especially when there’s a causal relationship, as with Maris’s persecution and Mantle’s subsequent re-raising to Golden Boy.

  3. Game 5 postponed to today, adding to the drama and suspense – giving me more time for thought. And so I watch a new Netflix, fictional bio-pic “Blonde” about Marilyn Monroe, based on the book (2000) by Joyce Carol Oates. Three hours and artistically brilliant, imo. However, not for the squeamish; and w/a heavy 3rd-wave feminist agenda. But and so then the film does tie all this discussion, err Great Debate, together. Because Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio is a player. He’s at once her hero, savior, “Daddy”, and abuser/villain. In real life! However, it is a fictional account from, first Oates and then the filmmaker’s and actors’ perspective.

    AS jjabbour1 notes – “diving into the depth of a person’ (my forte) is “fascinating” – especially w/r/t cause and effect. What WAS the cause of Monroe’s death? and Maris’s? Mantle’s? Are the 3rd-wave feminists correct? Is it biology? Fate? the Devil? (Who/what IS the devil?)

    Does Judge have the secret sauce?

  4. Secret Sauce vs. Drinking the Kool-Aid. Two 20th Century aphorisms that have gone beyond their original intentions. Language evolution, sometimes good, sometimes horrific (turning nouns into verbs: “texted” – ugh!).

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