Simply Baseball Notebook: Perspectives

Roger Maris & the HOF


Roger Maris Belongs in the HALL OF FAME

by David Zingler

It's time to put Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame. We've made him wait long enough. His critics point to his relatively unimpressive (by HOF standards) career numbers: .260 batting average, 275 home runs, and 851 RBI, but numbers alone do not measure his contributions to the game. Maris remains one of the most celebrated names in baseball; he held the games most revered record for 37 years and won back-to-back MVPs.

Many casual fans assume Maris has already been inducted. His name is easily the most recognizable among all Hall eligible players not already enshrined. While the controversy continually swirls around Pete Rose, Maris seldom gets his just due. Rose's character is clearly shady at best; he signed a document professing his guilt by his own free will. He admitted to committing the games' cardinal sin. Maris, on the other hand, was a family man who played it straight on and off the field and treated the game with respect.
I am not suggesting the Hall be filled with nice guys, but it definitely helped Kirby Puckett get in on his first try, despite less than normal Hall of Fame standards. Puckett was always perceived as a great guy - the media loved his bubbly personality, and ate up his cliché filled quotes. If Puckett is a first ballot Hall of Famer, Maris deserves the nod from the Veteran's Committee over 30 years since he last took the field.

Last year the Committee elected former Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski in to the Hall. Mazeroski, like Maris, was a .260 career hitter, but hit just 138 home runs in 17 seasons and never finished higher than eighth in the MVP voting. "Maz" was inducted mainly due to his eight Gold Gloves and World Series clinching home run in Game 7 of 1960 Fall Classic.

There have been other Veteran's Committee selectees that compare favorably to Maris:

Hack Wilson, inducted in 1979, maybe the most similar. Wilson, like Maris, is best known for one magical season. In 1930 he hit 56 home runs (a NL record that stood until 1998), and drove in a single season record 191 runs. But Wilson quickly faded, and by 1935 was out of the majors for good. His career batting average of .308 bests Maris, but he hit only 244 career home runs. Like Maris, he played twelve seasons.

In 1989 former Cardinal Red Schoendienst was enshrined. A second baseman, he didn't have much power; hitting only 84 home runs with 773 RBI in 19 seasons. A steady player, Schoendienst hit .289 and compiled 2,449 career hits, but never finished higher than third in the MVP voting. 

Former Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto, was inducted in 1994. Rizzuto, the 1950 AL MVP, hit 38 home runs with 563 RBI in 13 seasons. His career average of .273 is slightly better than Maris', but his power numbers aren't close and he stole 149 bases which doesn't stand out either.

Long-time Philly Richie Ashburn gained induction in 1995.  Ashburn, a .308 career hitter, won two batting titles (1955 & 58) and complied 2,574 hits. For an outfielder, however, he showed little power, hitting only 29 home runs with 586 RBI in 15 seasons and never finished higher than seventh in the MVP voting.

The intention here is not to slight the accomplishments of the above players, but rather to dispel the critics that point to Roger Maris career numbers when defending his exclusion from the Hall of Fame. The players above all contributed to the greatness of the game in their own unique way, they are Hall of Famers. Roger Maris deserves to be in their company.

During his career Roger Maris never received the credit he deserved. Nobody, it seemed, wanted him to break Babe Ruth's record. The commissioner, Ford Frick, refused to attend any of the games during his historic chase, and even decided to place the ridiculous asterisk in the record book. Even Yankee fans failed to embrace him; they instead saw him as a threat to their hero, Mickey Mantle, as well as to the legacy of Ruth. Instead of being his crowning achievement, the race to 61 was a miserable experience filled with stress and ridicule.

Now, nearly 18 years after his death, it is time to make amends and put Roger Maris where he belongs - in the Hall of Fame.

-David Zingler

Maris' page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

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