Today I rewatched and reviewed the excellent HBO biopic of the M&M boys, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, on the historic trail to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60. Both men seemed poised and very capable with the seasons they were having, but it would be Maris who pulled ahead in the last month.
While this post might be spoiler territory for the movie, if you are among the few on the planet who don’t know what Maris did in 1961 and want to see the movie, then you might want to eject right now. Yes, it’s ironic the year, considering the number, but that’s no typo.
… you’ve been warned, SPOILERS ahead …
At the time, controversy swirled around whether the record being broken would be legitimate since the baseball season had been extended to 162 games. YouTube has a clip shared of that magical moment and, while the call is pretty pathetic, the video is exciting to watch, including seeing what Maris does after heading to the dugout.
Fast forward to the 90s when baseball went on strike over — gasp — money and greed (owners, players, agents — pick your villains). It’s kind of crazy to realize that in 1961, Micky Mantle was paid $100,000 a year and he was the highest paid MLB player. In 2020, Mike Trout is making more than $37 million per year, something that remains in dispute as to how much of a pay cut he and other high played ballplayers should take in these current pandemic times.
Here we are, Father’s Day June 21, 2020 and not a single game of MLB has been played. Not even played in empty stadiums or on fields and broadcast to eager fans. Why? Is it money all over again? Yes, it is.
MLB still is offering 60 games, guaranteeing the players about $1.5 billion, but the recent surge of COVID-19 positive tests now is expected to delay the season. The resumption of spring training now likely will be delayed to about July 1, with the season starting July 26.MLB 2020: Deal for season coming in within days?
Nobody that isn’t a rich athlete or his agent wants to hear about millionaire salaries right now. Unemployment is skyrocketing, people are sick and dying, and most of the economy is suffering and will likely get worse before improving.
I’ll say the same thing I said in the 90s: make a deal and get back to work playing a game that you should be fortunate to be able to play and be paid anything for doing. What a great job, huh? Get paid to play a game.
Getting a pay cut sucks, being laid off sucks too. Heck, the world at large is doing that now. If they don’t get MLB playing again ASAP the ramifications for the game could be far worse than the 90s, and there won’t be a steroids juiced home run race to make the game more popular.
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, all have been roundly vilified for their alleged — in some cases, admitted — use of performance enhancing drugs.
Sosa is the only player mentioned who hasn’t admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, but he tested positive in an anonymous test. So, it all depends on what you want to believe and denote as “the” record. If you want to go down that home run record rabbit hole, let ESPN be your guide in this spirited piece.
Regardless who should really have the record, the MLB home run record books are currently tainted and yet, this film returns us to a better time in the world. A more pure era when athletic performance and achievement weren’t boosted artificially.
1961. When player salaries, steroids and pandemics weren’t front and center. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, swinging for the fences on skill alone. What a wonderful time to go back to and appreciate. Babe Ruth, if we even go back further, when he hit 60 home runs that was more than all the combined American League teams hit in 1927. Babe Ruth was and might always be the greatest baseball player ever.
But this film is for and about Roger Maris. He was an interesting, good and unique player because he wasn’t really known for hitting home runs — and yet he had this one mystical, magical season. A time when his incredible performance brought people back to the game.
The current single season home run record is held by Barry Bonds. It’s believed to have an even bigger asterisk than 61 ever could have had.
What’s fascinating is watching the grace and respect displayed by Roger Maris in the first video compared to the celebratory glee of McGwire when he hit 62 and Barry Bonds reaction at 73. The class and dignity Maris displayed doesn’t compare to other two players reactions.
Back to present day baseball not playing.
In 2020, whenever MLB does start playing, they are going to need player performances and class like Roger Maris in 1961 to restore the faith and goodwill in the game. Diehard fans, just like movie fans, will return, but casual fans will not for awhile. In part because their are bigger concerns in every day life than worrying about high paid sports athletes.
Grace, humility. The world needs more of that.
Even in 2020, Roger Maris — good for him, he deserves it — still holds the American League MLB baseball record for most home runs in a single 162 game season.