By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 5/24/16 (Tue)
Over the past year, I’ve made numerous trips to Fargo to see a couple of doctors.
The last time was April 1 and my wife was with me for support and to drive. I told her that every time I went alone, my treat after seeing the doctor was a visit to the Roger Maris Museum in the West Acres Shopping Center.
If you haven’t been there, you really ought to go see it and experience snapshots of the career of Roger Maris.
As most of us know, Maris is credited with hitting 61 home runs in 1961, to top Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark of 60. Both players played for the New York Yankees when they set their records.
Many of us strongly believe that Maris has the legitimate record, No. 1, simply because he hit one more home run than Ruth and No. 2, because he wasn’t pumped up on steroids like Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, who both eclipsed Maris’ total in 1998.
But Maris is known for a lot more than hitting 61 home runs in a season. He was a most valuable player, he was an All-Star, he played beside Mickey Mantle and starred in the 1962 movie “Safe at Home” with Mantle.
Maris played 12 years in the Major Leagues, getting his start with the Cleveland Indians. He later played with the Kansas City Athletics (now Oakland) the Yankees and finished out his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He played Minor League ball for four years and got his start with American Legion Post No. 2 in Fargo.
Maris grew up in Fargo and was a football standout at Fargo Shanley, much like a more modern Darin Erstad, of Jamestown, who excelled at football at Nebraska. Maris once said he played baseball because it was something to do during the summer.
It’s not the biggest museum in the world, but there is a lot to see at the Roger Maris Museum. Perhaps the most intriguing is an area of seating where a big-screen TV is constantly showing clips of Roger’s 1961 season. The clincher is, you sit in seats that were actually part of Yankee Stadium in 1961.
A number of his bats are on display as well as many of the home run balls he hit. No. 60 was hit off Jack Fischer of the Baltimore Orioles and sits on a carousel with others that are autographed.
No. 61, which was hit on Oct. 1, 1961 off Tracy Stallard of the Boston Red Sox, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Roger Maris isn’t!
He won a Golden Glove, he was voted the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, even though he didn’t get along with the media, he played in seven World Series’ in 12 seasons, as well as seven All-Star games.
He was Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1960 and 1961 and hit a total of 275 home runs in his career.
The museum also has a replica locker that displays his uniforms, cleats, among other things all the way down to the foot powder.
There are a number of magazines in which Maris made the cover, most of them after he hit his famous home run.
There’s something else that Roger Maris did that’s not in the museum, not in his statistics and not written by any sports reporter who covered Major League baseball.
Roger Maris was the pioneer for professional athletes coming out of North Dakota.
If you think of baseball alone, Darin Erstad broke into the Major Leagues with the California Angels in 1995, 37 years after Maris hit his record-breaking home run.
That opened the door for others like Chris Coste, Philadelphia Phillies, a product of Fargo South High School, Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians, who grew up in Sykeston, Tim Olson, Arizona Diamondbacks, a graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Bismarck, Tim Johnson of Grand Forks who played with the Milwaukee Brewers and was a manager for the Toronto Blue Jays and John Olerud, who didn’t grow up in North Dakota but spent a lot of time in Wahpeton visiting relatives. Olerud made fame as the Blue Jays first baseman. Rick Helling, also a graduate of Fargo Shanley, actually started a year before Erstad.
And to think it all started with Roger Maris, who was said to be one of the most humble players in the history of baseball.
There’s a quote in the museum that paraphrased, said he just wanted to be an average player and sometimes wished he didn’t hit all the home runs, as he didn’t like the media attention.
According to management at West Acres, 7 million people visit that mall every year and many of them visit the museum. Maris died in 1985 and is buried in Fargo.