ST. LOUIS – Over a 48-hour period last week, Henry Aaron forgave Mark McGwire, and the Roger Maris family forgave McGwire.
Aaron even suggested that McGwire deserved to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
But what credentials do they have?
Are they members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America?
We didn’t think so.
We’re clearly the conscience of baseball. Our BBWAA card gives us supreme moral authority and free admittance to a game at any major league stadium.
That said, I have an assignment for fellow crusaders.
Instead of continuing to tear McGwire down, why don’t we do something constructive by building up Roger Maris?
Even after his steroid confessional, we’ll never put McGwire in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s campaign and persuade the Veterans Committee to put the late Roger Maris into the Hall of Fame instead.
Let’s be for someone instead of against someone.
I’ve been reading all of these inspirational sermons that invoke Maris as the rightful holder of the single-season record for homers, with his 61 in 1961. And it is true. The guys who boomed their way past Maris and 61 homers aren’t whole or authentic. Not McGwire, not Barry Bonds, not Sammy Sosa.
Maris was for real, and his 61 should be moved back to the top of the list.
“Obviously, I think my dad still holds the record,” Rich Maris told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Too many things have gone on, and now this (with McGwire) has come out. We think baseball will end up doing the right things with the records. We think baseball will get it right.”
If nothing else, Maris should at least have a spot in the Hall of Fame. The great Mr. Aaron already is in the Hall of Fame, but we should also push to have him recognized as the career leader for home runs, with 755.
Roger Maris died of lymphoma in 1985, and a plaque in Cooperstown would mean a lot to his widow, Pat, and their four sons.
Last week McGwire called Pat Maris.
“He apologized to her, to my dad, to us kids,” Rich Maris told The Chronicle. “That speaks volumes to the kind of guy he is. My mom was very touched by his call. She felt sorry for Mark, that he’s going through this. She conveyed that we all make mistakes and move on from there.
“This (McGwire’s steroid use) is something we thought all along. It wasn’t so much a surprise, but I feel bad for Mark. He’s a very genuine guy and we’re close to him – we love him like a brother. I’m glad he got it out.”
“McGwire did a good thing because he got the Roger Maris name back out there again,” said Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, who befriended Maris when Maris played his final two seasons (1967-1968) in St. Louis. “A lot of people are writing and talking about Roger (now). So maybe this will get the ball rolling again.”
Maris doesn’t have incredible career numbers – 275 homers and 851 RBIs in 12 seasons – but a few things stand out other than the 61 homers in ’61.
Maris won consecutive American League MVP awards, in 1960 and ’61. He was a star performer on five consecutive pennant-winning Yankee teams, 1960 through ’64. He appeared in seven World Series, more than any other player in the 1960s. He won a Gold Glove. He was a four-time All-Star, a two-time RBI champion.
Maris was a fast runner and had a strong, accurate arm at the ready in right field. He probably saved the 1962 World Series with a defensive gem for the Yankees in the ninth inning of Game 7. Playing for the Cardinals in the 1967 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Maris led both teams with seven RBIs and batted .385.
Teammate Mickey Mantle called Maris the best all-around player he ever saw.
“Roger could do it all,” Shannon said. “Field, throw, run the bases, hit, hit for power. He was a very smart player. You didn’t see him make mistakes. He was just phenomenal.”
Maris never received more than 43 percent of the BBWAA vote, far short of the necessary 75 percent, before being dropped from the Hall of Fame ballot after 1988. Obviously, Maris wouldn’t be among the finest Hall of Famers. But if you take a close look at some Hall of Fame outfielders – Chick Hafey and Ross Youngs, to name two – Maris measures up in terms of OPS+, which is adjusted onbase plus slugging percentage.
The Veterans Committee has the power to vote Maris in. In many ways, his Hall of Fame appointment would be largely symbolic. But so what? It would be especially meaningful in these confusing times.
The Maris candidacy wouldn’t be based on traditional statistics; his value transcends numbers. His inclusion would send a signal that the Baseball Hall of Fame – with so many players from the so-called steroid era up for election – still has a place for honorable men who made a clean, significant and permanent mark on the game. And Maris did that.
It’s important to see the Maris plaque in Cooperstown, to remind visitors that we didn’t push aside heroes to accommodate drug cheats.
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