Celebrating the 1961 Season

September 25, 2011 — A few days before the Yankees celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Roger Maris’ 61 home run season in 1961, I attended a dinner at Manhattan’s Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, in which the organization hosted the Maris family as well as the family of Mickey Mantle.

Mantle, who hit 54 home runs in 1961, formed a close friendship with Maris. As the dinner was winding down, I spoke to Maris’ son Randy about the bond between the two iconic players.

“When Mickey and my dad got together, it was like being around two brothers,” Randy said. “They joked around constantly. You could see the affection they had for each other. They knew that they were two of the greatest ballplayers, and they had a special respect for each other.”

Randy also discussed what the admiration his father has received from the Yankees organization and from its fans has meant to the Maris family.

“We’re very proud of what my father accomplished,” Randy said. “We wish he was remembered for more than the 61 home run season, because he was a great ballplayer, who won back-to-back MVP Awards. But sometimes you’re stuck with your greatest accomplishment, and that’s not all bad.

“When Mr. Steinbrenner retired my dad’s number in the ’80s, it was an incredible day,” Randy continued. “The ovation my dad received was amazing. I didn’t think he was going to get that strong of a response. In the ’60s, the media really put a wedge between my dad and Mickey, and Mickey was the fan favorite. But when my dad came back to the Stadium in the ’80s, the fans showered him with love. I am really thankful to the Steinbrenners for not only retiring my dad’s number but also for putting together this event tonight. They didn’t have to do this, but I really appreciate that they did.”

A few minutes later, I asked Pat Maris, who is Roger’s widow, about her thoughts on the magical 1961 season.

“I just look back and feel like it was meant to be,” she said. “It’s great that Roger was so close with Mickey. It was a wonderful year.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

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