Saturday, August 6, 2016
#45 Roger Maris - St Louis Cardinals (Pictured with the Yankees)
When I was a boy, I was an avid Yankee fan. My Italian-American parents had Sinatra playing in the house often (records in those days) and the majestic resonance of his voice somehow made me think of the Yankee logo even before I started to follow the game when I was 9 years old. When I started watching them, and heard "New York,New York" echo in the background during a telecast, that sense reawakened in me from when I was too young to understand the sport.
Roger Maris' '67 card was not only a double but it was a triple. I had several. Looking at the card, it's clear Maris is pictured in a Yankee uniform and while I knew, Cards, meant Cardinals (says as much on the back) I liked to pretend this was a Yankees card and Cards simply meant ,Baseball Cards. No disrespect of course to the World Series champs of the '67 season but my love of the Yankees and especially their heritage out shined all other teams in those days. The Yankees I watched were usually disappointing. The team in the 80's won more regular season games than any other team in the Majors, but they accomplished no championships and when I was watching them, they couldn't outlast other teams to make it into the playoffs. I fell back, naturally on the team's heritage. Hence, what made this card great. The single season home run king with 61 in '61.
I think time has been kinder to Maris' 61 in '61. At the time, there was squabbling over the length of the season being longer for him to achieve the goal of passing Ruth. That seems minor now since his record has been broken repeatedly by players who have been suspected of using PEDs. I can't say I share in the media hysteria over PED usage but to say that hasn't left a major taint on players and records set by said players is an understatement. None of the players that past Maris are in the Hall of Fame and neither is poor Maris but definitely not because of performance enhancing drugs allegations.
This blog could go on for thousands of words if I wanted to get into his start in Cleveland, over to KC and how the Kansas City Athletics seemed to be a Major League farm club to the New York Yankees. Seemed like, every time the Yankees, wanted to unload a vet for a prospect or a quality player, the A's were more than happy to accommodate them. Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern, Enos Slaughter, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin were all KC bound when the Yankees dropped them. Hector Lopez, former rookie of the year Harry Byrd, Enos Slaughter(resigned after releasing Rizzuto), Bobby Shantz, Roger Maris all ended up heading to New York from the Athletics. Those are just off the top of my head but as I said. This post would be a field of words if I went into detail. The point is Maris was a Yankee and his impact was immediate and lasting. A 4 time all star and back to back MVP. When he was healthy, there was no one better. The problem is that he never really was the same player after the injuries got him. His last season of near regular work would be the last time the Yankees appeared in a World Series for over a decade, 1964. Losing his power, left an ailing Mantle unprotected in the lineup and the aging sqaud collapsed in '65. Rebuilding started in '66 with new President Michael Burke and new GM Lee MacPhail at the helm. The casualties had to be the old guard. The Yankees fans came to love but were shadows of their former selves. If they weren't retiring, they were traded or released. Maris by '66 was traded to the Cardinals for Charley Smith. A largely unknown utility infielder. If I was a kid in those days, I would have been disgruntled to say the least.
Maris' totals with the Cardinals were respectable and much better than his final years with the Yankees. He went on to two pennants with the St Louis. Was an invaluable presence in the '67 series, collecting 10 hits in 26 at bats. His fortunes, like the Cardinals fortunes were not nearly so valuable in '68. The Tigers outlasted the dominant Cardinal pitching and Maris, in his last plat appearances managed on only a .158 average. 3 hits in 19 at bats for 1 RBI.
As I said, this card had a special place in my collection. A card of one of the memorable Yankees from when they were champions. Clearly, it features Maris in a Yankee uniform. Topps liked to use what pictures they could and this one worked because we don't see the Yankee logo on the hat, just under the bill. The low open air pat of the original Yankee Stadium is visible in the background. It's anyone's guess what year the photo was taken. I think Maris looks younger (and thinner) than how he looked on the '66 and '68 Topps cards.
Radio personality, Jean Shepherd once said during his radio show that he felt that the Yankees of the early 60's were getting offered a few too many speaking engagements which meant they were having a few too many free dinners. They might have gotten a little too heavy and while people freely buy new clothes, they seldom buy new underwear and the weight and constriction caused by their older now ill fitting underwear affected their playing. Maybe he had something there.....