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Roger Maris Can be ‘Tickled to Death’ to be Matched by Aaron Judge

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Roger Maris was 19 days old when Babe Ruth hit his final home run for the Yankees in 1934. Maris’s profession ended a long time before Aaron Judge was born in 1992, and he died greater than six years earlier, of cancer. When Maris was laid to rest on a bitterly cold December day in Fargo, N.D., Bobby Richardson gave the eulogy.

“Roger was quiet, a family man, a beautiful guy,” Richardson, the Yankees’ starting second baseman for all of their World Series games within the Nineteen Sixties, said by phone last week. “He can be tickled to death that Judge can be the one breaking his record. And he can be pleased that steroids should not involved in it in any respect.”

Judge smashed his 61st home run on Wednesday in Toronto, passing Ruth’s profession high and tying Maris’s 1961 mark for the single-season American League record. Judge connected off the Blue Jays left-hander Tim Mayza with a liner to left within the seventh inning, a two-run shot that broke a tie in an eventual 8-3 Yankees victory. Roger Maris Jr. watched with Judge’s mother, Patty, from the front row behind the Yankees’ dugout along the primary final analysis at Rogers Centre.

“He must be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ,” Maris Jr. told reporters after the sport. “That is admittedly who he’s, if he hits 62, and I feel that that should occur. I feel baseball needs to take a look at their records and I feel baseball should do something.”

Judge is the primary hitter to achieve 61 homers within the twenty years that Major League Baseball has been testing for performance-enhancing drugs. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa twice hit greater than 61 homers within the late Nineties, and Barry Bonds belted 73 in 2001.

Judge’s feat, not less than, brings a number with deep historical roots back to the Yankees, a franchise he has honored with all of the traits Yankee fans love — pride, professionalism and respect for tradition.

“I got here back for an Old-Timers Game, I used to be standing across the batting cage, and he got here as much as me and said, ‘Wealthy, I’m glad you’re still well enough to come back experience this and be an element of it,’” said Richardson, 87, who still lives in his hometown, Sumter, S.C. “I used to be looking straight up at him.”

Richardson, who’s 5-foot-9, never had his number retired by the Yankees, as Maris did for his No. 9. However the Yankees held a day to honor Richardson before his retirement in late 1966, a miserable 12 months by which the team finished in last place for the primary time since 1912.

It was also the ultimate Yankees season for Maris, who hit only 13 home runs in his injury-marred pinstriped farewell. The Yankees didn’t hold a day that 12 months for Maris, whom they’d trade to St. Louis that off-season, but Maris took the time to commission a customized present for his friend.

“Roger, on his own, gave me a gold wristwatch,” Richardson said. “He had a friend who was a jeweler and had it made. It didn’t have 1-2-3-4 on the face; it had my No. 1 all the way in which around.”

The sport on Richardson’s day — a Saturday afternoon with the Yankees 26 ½ games out of first place — drew a similar-sized crowd because the one for Maris’s record-breaking game on a Sunday five years earlier. It was Maris’s fourth game after hitting his sixtieth homer, and the meager attendance totals are hard to fathom today.

Maris took the break day against Baltimore on Sept. 27, 1961, just after tying Ruth. Only 7,500 people or so showed up that afternoon, and tickets for the three-game series against Boston on the ultimate weekend were hardly in demand.

Those games, all with Maris one swing from breaking Ruth’s record, attracted 21,485 on Friday, 19,061 on Saturday and 23,154 on Sunday. The pennant race was over by then — the Yankees would host Cincinnati within the World Series opener that Wednesday — and, as every Yankees fan knows, there was doubt to the record’s legitimacy.

M.L.B. Commissioner Ford C. Frick had infamously declared that July that if it took a hitter longer than 154 games to eclipse Ruth, a “distinctive mark within the record books” can be affixed to the overall. An asterisk got here to symbolize the threat but was never actually applied.

Maris reached 61 homers in a 162-game schedule, which had never been used before. It was reasonable to think that others would also pass Ruth because the majors continued to expand and, presumably, the standard of pitching declined.

Yet Maris’s 61 stood because the record longer than Ruth’s 60, which had happened 34 years earlier. Maris reigned atop the single-season list for 37 years, until 1998, when McGwire after which Sosa toppled him. McGwire finished with 70 homers that season, 4 ahead of Sosa, and his last sold at auction for a record $3 million to Todd McFarlane, the comic-book creator and toy-company executive.

We may never know the worth of Judge’s 61st. It caromed off the back wall of the Blue Jays’ bullpen and was retrieved, on a bounce, by the coach Matt Buschmann. Yankees reliever Zack Britton then retrieved the ball for Judge, who gave it to his mother, Patty.

When Maris connected, with a drive to right off Boston’s Tracy Stallard, the memorabilia craze was far off. The concept of paying for a milestone ball was so unusual that it was big news when Sam Gordon, a restaurant owner from Sacramento, offered to purchase the ball for $5,000 from whomever happened to catch it.

That included the players, who were woefully underpaid on the time. Some Yankees, like the longer term Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, tried to strategically position themselves.

“Roger hit quite a lot of homers into the Yankee bullpen that 12 months, so we figured we had nearly as good a likelihood as anybody to catch the ball,” Ford, who won the Cy Young Award that season while earning only $36,000, wrote in “Slick,” his memoir with Phil Pepe. “In spite of everything, five grand was five grand.”

As a substitute, the 61st homer found its approach to Sal Durante, a 19-year-old fan from Brooklyn who caught it on the fly within the stands. Durante said he wanted to provide the ball back to Maris, but Maris insisted he keep it and claim the reward.

“What do you’re thinking that of that child?” Maris told Boston catcher Russ Nixon later in that game, as reported in The Times. “The boy is planning to get married and he can use the cash, but he still wanted to provide the ball back to me for nothing. It shows there’s some good people left on this world, in any case.”

As Richardson recalls it, Maris didn’t care much concerning the record on the time; the 154-game mark had passed, in any case, and the unrelenting scrutiny of the chase had so aggravated Maris that he had lost chunks of his hair late that season. Only later, Richardson said, did Maris appreciate the majesty of his accomplishment.

Maris was only 27 years old in 1961, and the 61st homer was the 158th of his profession. For Judge, 30, his 61st was profession home run No. 219, and with the long-term contract he is bound to get as a free agent this winter, he’ll almost surely cruise past Maris’s total of 275.

Judge’s legacy, then, may include far more than the record he now shares. For Maris, though, there isn’t a doubting the majesty and meaning of 61. Etched onto his diamond-shaped tombstone in Fargo is a picture of Maris in mid-swing: 61 above his bat, ’61 below it.

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