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September 04, 2017

Roger Maris seemed an unlikely candidate to one day challenge the revered Ruth when he was traded to the Yankees by the Kansas City A's after the 1959 season having hit only 58 career home runs. But Maris won the AL MVP award in 1960 with 39 homers, a league-best 112 RBIs and a .952 OPS at age 25.

The next season—baseball's first with a 162-game schedule—he started slowly, hitting his only home run of April in New York's 11th game. A four-game homer streak that started on May 17 finally got him going, as he hit 24 in the next 38 games. On July 25 he hit two homers in each game of a doubleheader with the White Sox to set a new career high of 40 and when Chicago came back to the Bronx he capped a run of six straight games with a home run by hitting two on Aug. 16, 13 years to the day since Ruth's death.

By then Maris had 48 homers and baseball's old guard was sufficiently concerned about Ruth's record being broken that commissioner Ford Frick stipulated that for Maris to be recognized as the sole home run king he would have to do it in 154 games. Maris couldn't get there, reaching 58, but he hit No. 59 in Game 155 and tied Ruth's hallowed mark in Game 159. On the last day of the season, Oct. 1, he ripped a fastball from Boston's Tracy Stallard into the rightfield seats for his 61st home run. 

Ironically the so-called asterisk that was unfairly applied to Maris has now been affixed in the minds of many to the only players who have surpassed his total. To those people, Maris remains the single-season home run champion.

Ted Keith

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