Do You Know …
How Mickey Mantle Helped Roger Maris Break Babe Ruth’s Record?
As both were striving to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, the media tried their best to paint Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as rivals more than teammates. In fact, it seems that both of them got along with the other despite the pressure on them.
In addition, it seems unlikely that Maris would have been able to hit 61 home runs that year if it hadn’t been for Mantle. Here’s why:
1961 was the year that changed Maris’s life – and baseball – forever. His much-chronicled chase of Babe Ruth’s 47-year-old home run record brought baseball unprecedented media attention, particularly as Mantle – the media darling in this drama – was pursuing Ruth’s record right along with Maris.
A late-season illness caused the Mick to miss games that cost him any chance of catching Ruth’s ghost, and Mantle finished the year with 54 home runs.
Despite the mounting media pressure, as well as verbal and even physical abuse from “fans,” including death threats, Maris hit home run #61 on the last day of the season, breaking the unbreakable record and setting one that would stand for 37 years.
But here’s the amazing thing about that season, and Mantle’s essential role in Roger Maris’s accomplishment. During the season – a second straight MVP campaign for Maris – the Yankee right fielder did not receive a single intentional walk.
The most dangerous power hitter of his day was not granted a single free pass to first base, and the only explanation could be that the guy hitting behind him was Mickey Mantle.
From the pitcher's point of view, pitching to Maris made perfect strategic sense. There would be little to gain by walking Maris and sending him around the bases on a Mantle home run. That would be one run more “expensive” than giving up a home run to Maris.
Maris was consistently allowed to see the kind of pitches he could pull into the right field seats. And Mantle’s greatness took on another layer: for that one season at least, Mickey Mantle proved to be as dangerous in the on-deck circle as he was in the batter’s box.