It is ironic that in all the controversy stirred by Mark McGwire this week that the legacy of Roger Maris has to suffer yet another indignity.
Even the most casual baseball fan will know that Babe Ruth’s record for home runs in a season of 60 came under assault in 1961 by Mickey Mantle and a shy 27-year-old kid from Hibbing, MN named Maris.
But Maris was never really allowed to have the record by himself. Commissioner Ford Frick, who was a ghost writer for Ruth declared that if Mantle or Maris failed to hit 60 or more home runs within the 154 games Ruth set the record, it would have to carry a special designation.
The designation later became an asterisk. It hung around Maris’ neck like an albatross.
Mantle was injured late in the 1961 season and was unable to continue the race with his teammate and roommate Maris. Maris, in fact, failed to hit his 61st home run until after 154 games. So he never really was accorded the honor of being baseball’s single-season home run king.
Considering that many Yankee fans revered Ruth and many more thought it should be Mantle and not Maris to break the record, the 1961 season became more of a nightmare to Maris than a blessing. He couldn’t sleep, the press hounded him and his hair began falling out in clumps.
People were actually openly rooting against him and many were glad with the commissioner’s edict had prevented Ruth’s record to be eclipsed because of the new 182-game schedule.
Many forget that Maris was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1960 and he was just as deserving as anyone to break the record. In fact, who is to say who deserves to break a record or not?
Ruth’s record had stood since 1927. The asterisk remained until 1991. Maris died on Dec. 14, 1985 never knowing that he would actually be recognized as baseball’s home run king. But the dropping of the asterisk did little to embellish his image as the king.
Ruth’s shadow followed him throughout his injury-filled career. He never liked the asterisk but said it was for history to judge who the legitimate home run record-holder was.
Then along comes McGwire, who was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1987 and, who along with Jose Canseco, led the Oakland Athletics to a world championship in 1989. In McGwire’s first nine seasons, his single-season high for home runs was the 49 he had hit as a rookie.
His single-season high other those 49 home runs in 1987 was the 42 he had hit in 1992.
Then came the 1996 season with the St. Louis Cardinals when he hit 52. Then came the 1997 season when he hit 57. Then came the famous 1998 season when he 70. In 1999 he belted 65.
Hmm! Ruth’s record stood since 1927 when Maris broke it in 1961 and here was McGwire having two consecutive seasons of 70 and 65 home runs.
Meanwhile, Sammy Sosa of the Cubs hit 66 in 1998 and 63 in 1999. He also hit 64 in 2001. Hmm! He had three seasons where he hit more than Ruth and Maris.
In 2001, Barry Bonds established a new major-league record with 73 home runs.
You seeing a pattern here?
From 1998 to 2001 three major-league players had passed Ruth and Maris a total of six times. Though there were whispers around baseball that something was not right, baseball accepted these feats because the game was gaining in popularity. Baseball had no steroid testing policy nor was it being contemplated.
It was not until the BALCO revelations and baseball began to crack down much too late on steroids that McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were swept up into the scandal. The damage the Steroid Era has inflicted upon baseball is immeasurable.
Stains will never be washed away.
Now, 11 years later McGwire apologizes and admits the obvious: He did use steroids. What does he want us to do? Cry for him? Forgive him? Put him in the Hall of Fame?
This to me is the final indignity to Maris. As far as we know, Maris hit his home runs the right way. No steroids and every one was legitimate. We can’t say the same for McGwire. Sosa and Bonds.
They cheated. They cheated not only us. They cheated the game. Most of all they cheated Ruth and Maris.
If I was the commissioner or a person with more backbone than Bud Selig, I would erase the home run marks of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds and restore Maris as the recognized home run king along with Ruth’s mark of 60 as second best.
I would reinstate Henry Aaron as the overall record-holder for career home runs and expunge the totals Bonds amassed.
Without doing this, the game is forever tainted by these criminals. Steroids continue to cloud the game. Even if an Albert Pujols were to break a record in this atmosphere, it surely will come with the accusation he is taking performance enhancing substances to do it. With McGwire as his hitting coach no less.
It is like McGwire and his fellow cheats have forever stained the game. Ruined it. Ruined its most hallowed records.
And it is not as if McGwire did not realize what he was doing at the time. When he broke Maris’ mark, the Maris family was on hand to watch and cheer the event. How hypocritical can you be? You accepted these accolades from this proud family knowing that you cheated to do it.
You may as well of pulled a gun on them and took their wallets while you were at, Mark.
You and your fellow cheats are scum and just as much a scourge to baseball as Pete Rose is. And like him, none of you deserve to even enter the doors of the Hall of Fame, much less be enshrined.
I will never forgive Mark McGwire and I hope he rots in his own private hell when he dies. Selig should not allow him near a uniform or the field as a coach. He should be banned just like Rose.
Maybe the Roger Maris did not deserve to break Babe Ruth’s record but he still has more class than McGwire ever had. I truly do feel sorry for Roger today. More than ever.