Should Maris Still Hold the Record?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Roger Maris hits his record-breaking 61st home run on the last day of the season, October 1, 1961 at Yankee Stadium.

Roger Maris, Jr., remains adamant in his belief that his father is baseball's rightful home run king. The former Yankee slugger's record of 61 homers in 1961 stood for 37 years, until both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa passed it (with 70 and 66 homers respectively) in the summer of 1998, followed by Barry Bonds' record-setting 2001 season of 73 home runs. But all three have been dogged by suspicion of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, and there have been calls to restore Maris as the title holder.

> "What Mark [McGwire] did was phenomenal," the younger Maris said in an interview with TIME. "What Barry [Bonds] did was incredible, too. But it appears they had help. If that's what happened, then it's hard to compare apples and oranges."

When McGwire and Sosa were pursuing Maris's record in 1998, Maris Jr. appeared at games to celebrate both players. But that was before baseball's steroid scandal raised questions about their achievements.

"Of everybody, Barry has the biggest black cloud," said Maris, Jr. 47, who lives in Gainesville, Fla., where he owns a Budweiser brewery. "At least when McGwire did it, nobody was really thinking like that. Baseball and the whole country were behind him and it sucked everybody in. It was great for baseball."

The climate, however, has changed considerably. In 2005 a resolution was passed by the state senate in North Dakota, Maris's home state, to recognize Maris as baseball's single-season home run champ, and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan has sponsored a similar resolution in the U.S. Senate, citing the ongoing steroids scandal. "Some of us think [Maris's] home run record still stands," Dorgan said during Commerce Committee hearings last year on steroids and baseball, "and that is a sad comment on baseball." Appearing before the committee, Sosa denied using steroids, and McGwire refused to answer questions about steroid us (though he did admit to previously using the legal supplement androstein). Bonds has repeatedly denied knowingly using any performance-enhancing drugs.

"If these folks are on the juice, and I believe they are, then Roger should get his record back," said Joel Heitamp, a North Dakota state senator, last year. Maris, Jr., said he wasn't sure what should happen should baseball officials determine that the three men who eclipsed his father's record were using performance-enhancing drugs at the time.

"Whatever's right is right," he said. "I don't know what that is. I just know dad hit his 61. Whatever happens, dad's still in the mix."