Surpassing the Sultan of Swat
“60 home runs. I’d like to see another son a b—— do that!”
Throughout his career, George Herman “Babe” Ruth was as much as a polarizing figure on the diamond as he was with the press. Despite his motor mouth and tendency to have controversial commentary, the Babe backed it up with his unbelievable performances day in and day out on the field.
In the 1919 season, then a member of the Boston Red Sox, Ruth crushed a record setting 29 home runs in a single season. Deemed an “unreachable” mark across the baseball world at the time, the Babe would go on to smash 54 homers the very next year with the New York Yankees. Nicknamed the “Sultan of Swat” by teammates and fans, Babe Ruth was the gold standard of baseball.
Seven years after his earth shattering fifty-four home run season, Babe Ruth somehow continued to outdo himself. Clobbering an unprecedented 60 home runs in a single season, Ruth extended his own record and claimed that nobody could reach that number in one year.
As ridiculous, and perhaps unattainable Ruth’s record was, records were meant to be broken.
Thirty-four years after Ruth’s magical season, in which he lead the Yankees to a World Series title, two players from his former team were contesting his record. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, nicknamed the “M&M boys,” were in the midst of a home run battle in the summer of 1961. Maris, a Minnesota native, had won the MVP award the prior year in his first season with the Yankees. Mantle, already a two-time MVP and five-time World Series champion by ’61, was probably the better player and favorite to beat out Maris.
At the beginning of September in the 1961 season, Maris had 56 home runs and Mantle had 53. With roughly twenty-five games left on the schedule, it was widely thought they could both surpass Ruth’s record given the pace they were going at. However, team doctors discovered an abscess on Mantle’s hip joint, taking him out of the running to break the sought after record.
After going one week with just one homer, Maris finally cracked his 58th home run in game number 154. Three days later, he hit his 59th.
With pressure mounting to tie the record, it took Maris another six days to tie Ruth’s record, doing so in fewer plate appearances than Ruth’s 1927 season (684 to 689). On October 1st, in the final game of the 1961 season, Maris crushed a pitch from Boston’s Tracy Stallard over the right field fence to break the elusive number sixty.
As much of a humbling accomplishment breaking the record was for Roger, it was severely taking for him personally.
"As a ballplayer, I would be delighted to do it again. As an individual, I doubt if I could possibly go through it again.”
Maris' magical 1961 season was finished with a World Series ring, behind the Yankee's league leading 109 wins in the regular season.