Our 1961 baseball season beat writer filed this report:
On April 26, 1961, Roger Maris hit his first home-run, and first extra base hit, of the season. It came in his 11th game and his 33rd at-bat. Maris wasn’t just having a bad start in terms of the long ball, either. His batting average coming into the April 26 game was .161. He had, however, walked seven times, giving him an on-base percentage of .308.
Maris was faring so poorly that Ralph Houk, the new Yankee manager, dropped him to seventh in the batting order. The Yankee order for the April 26 game in Detroit was: (1) Bobby Richardson, (2) Tony Kubek, (3) Hector Lopez, (4) Mickey Mantle, (5) Bill Skowron, (6) Elston Howard, (7) Maris, (8) Deron Johnson, (9) Whitey Ford.
Maris delivered his home run in the fifth inning off of veteran right-hander Paul Foytack. The solo shot gave Ford and the Yankees an 8-5 lead.
Ford, who previously had been staked to a 6-0 lead, was unable to make the 8-5 lead stand up. In fact, after the Tigers erupted for five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Yankees found themselves on the wrong end of an 11-8 score. Ford was charged with 10 of the runs, in six and one-third innings, though only 6 were earned runs.
The drama didn’t end there. In a scenario that hearkened back to the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, the Yankees came back to tie the score. The big blow was Mantle’s two-run homer in the eighth inning. That inning, the Yankees failed to take the lead when, with two outs, Maris grounded out, stranding Skowron at third and Howard at second.
On this day, though, the Yankees prevailed. Another two-run homer by Mantle, this one in the tenth inning, gave them a 13-11 victory. Mantle’s two homers brought his total for the young season to 7.
The Yankee win ended the Tigers’ 8 game winning streak. And it meant that instead of falling 4 games behind pace-setting Detroit, they were only two back. The Tigers would provide the Yankees with their only real competition for the 1961 American League title.
Maris’ home run signaled the end of his slump, but not the beginning of a hot streak. His next home run wouldn’t come until six games later, on May 3, at which time he was batting .214.
I’m thinking about a series of posts titled “This Day in Beauty Pageant History.” Much like our reader’s baseball series, it would allow our readers to re-live some of the great moments in our cultural history. Time to start digging through the archives.