Monday, July 14, 2008

61*

Times have sure changed.

Hard as it is to believe now, baseball players once had to take jobs during the offseason to make ends meet. Roger Maris, the year he hit more single-season home runs than Babe Ruth, made less than $40,000. Heck, back then baseball was *the* sport. Nothing else came close. Now, that too, has changed.

Went over to Doug Harned's house tonight to show him "61*", Billy Crystal's excellent 2001 film that highlights Maris's run for the record. Doug had never seen it. Which surprised me, given what a big baseball nut Doug is.

He enjoyed the film. And, I must say, it's only improved with age.

After the movie ended, Doug went back into his bedroom, promised his wife Mary Jane that he'd go over to vacationing son Dean's house to feed the dogs, and came back out with a vintage Life magazine from 1961. Sure enough, grinning on the cover, is Maris and Mickey Mantle.

I thumbed through the pages, marveling at the pictures, shaking my head. In '61 you could order a year's worth of Life for $1.98. Big ads graced the pages for everything from Lucky Strike cigarettes to products that don't exist anymore.

And, in the middle, is cool photos of Mantle checking his swing and Maris running the bases.

If I knew where former baseball commissioner Ford Frick is buried, I'd probably go spit on his grave. Maris didn't deserve the asterisk beside his record. Yeah, so he played in 8 more games than Ruth that season. Well, Ruth didn't have to play at night or travel to the West Coast. Fay Vincent had the good sense to remove the asterisk in 1991. Too bad it came six years after Maris's death.

Maris didn't deserve the treatment he received, from either the fans or the New York press. So goes the territory, then as today, when one plays baseball in the Bronx. Some things never change.

Came back home and didn't bother with the home run derby. No, I was lost somewhere in my nostalgia, landing tonight back in 1961, when baseball was still king, and the M&M boys graced the cover of Life.

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