Roger Maris for the Hall? No, It's Still Not a Good Idea

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Every few years, like a bad idea whose time has come, the argument for Roger Maris and the Hall of Fame springs up again. There have been several lately, no doubt spurred by the 50th anniversary of the Maris-Mantle home run chase in 1961 when both Yankee sluggers went after Babe Ruth's single season record of 60. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the steroid revelations of recent years are fueling the case for Maris.

Today there's one on BleacherReport.com by guest columnist Robert Lipsyte. "This was the month my all-time favorite slugger found his groove; by the end of May he had 12 home runs and was on his way to a new record.

"That was 50 years ago, His name was Roger Maris, and I'm pissed off that the press box hacks who vote for the Hall of Fame have never handed him the golden ticket in."

In support of Maris, Lipsyte texted Bob Costas, whom he correctly calls "as close as baseball has to a moral authority." Costas' return text: "Want him in. Stature grows with each passing yr, career stats short but historical importance huge ..."

Some points to be made about Maris: most people forget that he was far from a one-year wonder, having won the MVP award not just in 1961, the year he broke the record, but the season before.

In addition to being a great slugger for several; seasons, he was a fine defensive player and a smart base runner. His relay on Willie Mays' double in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1962 World Series kept Mattie Alou from scoring and tying the game. The Yankees won.

By all accounts Maris was a great guy and a terrific teammate and showed tremendous courage in weathering the scorn of baseball fans all over the country who didn't want to see Ruth's record broken. He also did his best to withstand the relentless pounding of a New York Ruth-centric press.

All of that said, Roger Maris does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. It isn't just that his career performance did not merit the honor, though that is true. He didn't have a long career (just 12 full seasons), he didn't hit for a high average (.260), and unlike some great players who didn't hit for average (Mike Schmidt for instance), he didn't have a particularly high on-base percentage (.348). He only hit 275 runs in his career and drove in over 100 runs just three times - 1960-1962 with the Yankees. He had more than 40 home runs in only one season, 1961 when he broke the record.

More to the point, it can be argued - in fact, I will make the argument here - that Maris wasn't the best player in the league in either of his two MVP seasons. In Total Baseball 's total player ranking, a method developed by John Thorn and Pete Palmer, Mantle not only tops him in 1960 but is considerably higher in 1961. In fact, the gaps between Mickey and Roger in those years was substantial. In Bill James' complex Win Shares method, which takes in all hitting, fielding and base running contributions, Mickey topped Roger by five "shares", 36-31 in 1960 and by a whopping 48-36 in 1961, Maris' only truly great season. And if Mantle had won either of those much-deserved MVP awards, nobody would be making the case for Maris in the HOF.

Okay, so no matter how you slice it, Maris was named MVP twice, but so was an oddly forgotten ballplayer from a later time, the Atlanta Braves' Dale Murphy, who topped Maris in every possible category, hitting just under 400 career home runs, leading the league twice in home runs to Maris' once, and driving in more than 100 runs five time to Maris' three.

Are Maris' credentials greater than Murphy's simply on the basis of one season? They don't give the Nobel Prize for just one book. (One wonders if Murphy would be in the Hall today had he played most of his career in New York.)

In my 2002 book, Clearing The Bases, I devoted a chapter to this ongoing controversy: "Roger Maris is one of my first vividly recalled childhood sports heroes, and I'm forever grateful to Billy Crystal for bringing him back, along with Mickey Mantle" - in his television movie, *61 - "to help me explain to my ten-year old daughter why the summer of '61 meant so much to me. But the Hall of Fame is about greatness, or at least I think it should be, and for whatever reasons that were locked up in his mind and heart, Roger Maris shied away from true greatness. Think of it this way: Roger Maris would have been the first to tell you that he didn't quite deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. You know that he would. A less than honest response to the question of 'Does Roger Maris belong in the Hall of Fame?' dishonors his memory.'

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7 comments
lewisbj810
lewisbj810

for whatever reasons that were locked up in his mind and heart... For whatever reasons?  He was absolutely mistreated the year he hit 61 - and that wasn't the only year.  Imagine what would have happened if the fans would have supported him and he had gotten a decent nights sleep.  His Homeruns, RBIs, skills on the field- all of them he did with 0 appreciation and some might even say while tormented - the Hall of Fame IS about greatness - and a "normal man" could not have done what he did in the same situation.  Roger Maris IS greatness AND belongs in The Hall of Fame.  https://www.facebook.com/notes/barb-lewis/number-9/10153389626270206 

Yankeefoll
Yankeefoll

Remember Al Kalines response to a young fan telling him "you're not half as good as Mickey Mantle"  "Kid" he said "nobodys half as good as Mantle!"  Maris was a courageous man who overcame everything thrown his way in breaking the Babes record.  As Casey Stengle said, he gets a point for fielding, nobody's better around the fences, he gets a point for throwing, a right fielder must be a thrower or he's not a right fielder, he gets a point for base running, nobody's better at breaking up the double play and that's without mentioning his hitting!  He was a hero to thousands of kids, helped his teams win 7 pennants in his 12 year career, and if you look up his HR ratio to at-bats before his serious broken hand injury in 1965, was a respected and feared slugger!  He definitely belongs in the BB HOF!

Michael Pacholek
Michael Pacholek

Maybe Allen should use his "SLOB" stat and see if that helps Maris.  If for no other reason than to show just what kind of slobs didn't respect him at the time.

Dannypeary
Dannypeary

I usually love your writing and opinions Allen but I can't believe you're going along with John Thorn and Peter Palmer over all of Maris's teammates--including Mickey Mantle, who said Maris deserved the MVPs over him and was the best all-around AL player he saw--including those who played with him after he hit 61 homers. Even Ernie Harwell says he was as good as Kaline. 3 100-RBI seasons in 12 years--Check on Kaline, and notice Mantle had 4 in 18 years. On base percentage??? The most overrated and misinterpreted stat there is. I'm surprised you didn't point out he received no intentional walks, another wrongly used stat. Read my book with Tom Clavin and you'll recognize his value year after year, including in St. Louis. You don't cite the "stat" that he came to two 3rd place teams and they started winning championships; or the "stat" his managers used: he made no mistakes. He was far better than the good baserunner and fielder you talk about. In fact, the reason I wanted to write the book is that, statistics or not, he truly was a GREAT player, not a good player. And as a Yankee-hater, I hated them having another GREAT player. As Maury Allen, who wanted him in the HOF, told me, the vindictive reporters of the day deliberately devalued his achievements and readers/fans believed them then--and fans and new generations of reporters just believe what as been passed down to them. Which is why we wrote the book, to hail his achievements and correct a wrong impression. And how can you just cavalierly say Maris didn't think he deserved to be in HOF? You're wrong. He did think he belonged but was resigned to the fact that he'd never get in because it was reporters who didn't like him and knew nothing about playing MLB who got the vote. Danny Peary

John Thorn
John Thorn

I really don't wish to appear to tell the Hall of Fame or its electors how to run their institution; it belongs to them and they certainly may do as they please. But if the Hall were to introduce a new tier of induction--for baseball's greatest events or "moments"--then players like Maris and Bobby Thomson and Don Larsen and more could earn a permanent place in Cooperstown and their advocates would not have to overreach. My two cents.

Anini2008
Anini2008

 Danny,

After just finishing your book a week ago,  I changed my long standing belief that Roger Maris should be in the hall of fame.  I now feel him not being there is a travesty.  I do not know if his continual lack of votes is the result of vindictiveness as well as self righteousness of some voters or if it is lack of education.  I can think of no better message to todays young athletes than to honor such an upstanding person, teammate, and hustler.  Not to mention the superhuman, incomprehensible achievement of his '61 season.  Not to mention restoring all legitimacy to this hallowed record.

nicknoble53
nicknoble53

@John Thorn No no no   -- to compare what Maris accomplished with Thomson and Larsen (both essentially one game heroes) is the height of silliness. I agree that Maris wasn't Mantle-Mays-Speaker-Cobb-Wagner-Ruth, but only a fraction of the players in the Hall of Fame are. And he was FAR more than a one game-one moment-one record wonder. He was league MVP twice (that's Most Valuable over the course of an entire season, not just one game), was a Gold Glove outfielder, and started on seven (7) World Series teams in two different leagues. AND he hit those 61 homers. And he did it all without drugs, through much of an era dominated by pitchers.  As to some of the other criticisms in the article above-- Twelve years is, I admit, a short-ish career, but it would not be the shortest of those in the Hall of Fame, and longevity is simply one factor (if it were a primary factor, I'd expect to see Allen Barra argue for Jesse Orosco's election to the Hall). And Dale Murphy should be in the Hall as well, in my opinion, so that comparison is equally silly. (They are, after all, the only 2-time MVPs not in the Hall). Finally, to use Roger Maris' natural humility as an excuse to keep him out of the Hall, rather than as a factor in arguing for his election, completely disregards several of the following REQUIREMENTS for Hall of Fame consideration: “voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." His record is very good (two time MVP is not to be sniffed at-- very few players have accomplished it and all but two of those are in the Hall of Fame, and to use statistics developed long after he stopped playing to second-guess his selection is unfair: the game is, as Bill James has said, still more than the sum of mere statistics); likewise his playing ability (great fielder, home run champ, 2 time MVP again, good enough to start for 7 pennant winning teams in 2 different leagues); his INTEGRITY, SPORTSMANSHIP, CHARACTER are outstanding (yet Mr. Barra wants to use this as a rationale for disqualifying him); and his contributions to teams-- 60% of the teams on which he started went to the World Series. 

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