A long-time reader filed this dispatch from the 1961 baseball season:
On June 7, 1961, Roger Maris hit his 17th home run of the season, a three-run shot off of Pedro Ramos in a 5-1 Yankee win over Minnesota. The Yankees remained in third place, three games behind the first place Cleveland Indians.
Maris’s 17th homer came in the Yankees’ 49th game. Maris was thus on pace to hit 56 home runs. Right behind him were two better-pedigreed sluggers, Mickey Mantle and Rocky Colavito, with 15 each. Considering that the season was not even one-third complete, and given the difficulty of maintaining a better than one home run per three games pace, there was little reason to believe that Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers was in much jeopardy. Yet Maris was hot. His June 7 blast was his fifth of the month and ninth in twelve games.
Unfortunately, the rest of Maris’s output was not so impressive. Beyond the 17 home runs, he had only 23 other hits to show for the season, which meant that his batting average stood at a lowly .237. His on-base percentage was a so-so .356. Mantle’s corresponding numbers were .298 and .410.
Maris’s slugging percentage of .550 was fine, but still 110 points below Jim Gentile’s league-leading mark. Others with much higher numbers included Mantle (.627), Harmon Killebrew (.622), Norm Cash (.608) and Indians catcher John Romano (.637).
So yesterday in baseball history, Maris wasn’t just a prohibitive long-shot to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. He was arguably less than even-money to start for the American League in the All Star game.