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BLAST FROM THE PAST: What else was happening when Roger Maris hit home run No. 61 in '61?

WORTHINGTON -- On the last day of the first season of the expanded 162-game Major League baseball schedule, left-handed hitting Roger Maris made history when he drove a Tracy Stallard (Boston Red Sox rookie right hander) fastball into the lower right-field stands of Yankee Stadium, some 15 rows deep and about 360 feet from home plate.

The blast -- which happened on Sunday, Oct. 1, 1961 -- was the 61st of the season for Maris and topped the all-time MLB single season record of 60 set by the legendary Babe Ruth in 1927.

But, of course, an asterisk was put by Maris' record -- because he had an extra eight games. His home run total after 154 games (the number of MLB regular-season games prior to the 1961 expansion season) was 59, one short of the record.

Maris, however, tied the record on Tuesday, Sept. 26, hitting a third-inning homer off Baltimore Orioles' right-hander Jack Fisher.

Then four games later, in the fourth inning -- in his second at-bat, at 1:46 p.m. EST -- Maris crushed Stallard's third pitch over the fence, making baseball history.

61 in '61 tells the tale

While it's been 50 years, half a century ago, since Maris and popular Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle both chased the record, drawing the nation-wide attention of the media, it's been a decade already since Billy Crystal's 2001 film 61 depicted that historic season.

I have seen that movie at least three times and am intrigued over and over by the controversy and "politics" surrounding the home run record chase.

Mantle, who had hit 52 home runs during his remarkable triple crown season (130 RBI, .353 batting average) in 1956, was a Yankee hero.

Maris, despite hitting 39 home runs and driving in an American League-leading 112 runs in his first season with the Yankees in 1960, was not.

Badgered by the media and heckled by the Yankee fans, Maris just went about his business -- playing baseball and helping the Yankees win.

The all-around athletic Maris was an outstanding right fielder with one of the best arms in the Majors.

Contrary, to the media-based fallacy of Maris and Mantle being jealous of one another and not getting along, the two outfielders became good friends and helped each other in their pursuit of the record.

Mantle, who was sidelined late in the season with a hip infection, finished the campaign with a career-best 54 home runs, while driving in 128 runs and crossing the plate 131 times.

Maris, meanwhile scored 132 runs and topped the Majors with 141 RBI, while batting .269.

His great season was capped with a World Series ring (victory in five games over the Cincinnati Reds) and a second straight American League MVP award.

The record lasted 37 seasons before both Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) bettered it in 1998.

Barry Bonds broke McGwire's mark when he hit 73 home runs in 2001, the same season -- 10 years ago -- that Crystal's film joined the long list of great baseball movies.

High school football star in Fargo, Maris once ran four kickoffs back for touchdowns

While researching a bit on Roger Maris, I found that he was an exceptional all-around athlete at Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D.

During his senior season of football in the fall of 1951 -- when New York Giants' slugger Bobby Thomson's historic walkoff home run in a one-game playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers sent the Giants to the World Series -- Maris set an official national high school record, which still stands, by returning four kickoffs for touchdowns in a single game.

He was recruited by the legendary Bud Wilkinson to play college football for the University of Oklahoma. But things didn't work out and Maris left the Sooners' campus before the first semester was finished and returned to Fargo, signing a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians.

After four seasons in the minors, Maris made his major league debut with the Indians, hitting his first home run on April 18, 1957 -- a grand slam at Briggs Stadium in Detroit off Tigers' pitcher Jack Crimian.

Maris was traded to the Kansas City Athletics prior to the 1958 season and spent two seasons with the A's before the Yankees traded for him prior to 1960.

After seven seasons in New York, he spent the final two years of his career in the National League with the St. Louis Cardinals, helping them win the 1967 World Series, hitting .385 with a home run and seven RBI.

Often overlooked as a fielder, Maris made a memorable throw in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 in the 1962 World Series, fielding a Willie Mays double and firing a rocket to the plate, preventing Matty Alou from scoring the tying run.

The Yankees then got the series-ending out when second baseman Bobby Richardson caught Willie McCovey's line drive.

Maris hit 33 home runs in '62 and drove in 100 runs -- his third straight season with 100 or more RBI.

Maris retired from MLB after the 1968 season and worked in Flordia for 15 years before being diagnosed with Hodgkins's lymphoma in 1983. He died at age 51 on December 14, 1985 in Houston, Texas.

Twenty-four years earlier, when he was 27, Roger Maris made baseball history -- 50 years ago this weekend.

Looking back at area high school grid games on Sept. 29, 1961

Two nights before Maris hit "61 in '61," the area was packed with high school football action.

"Jackson Tops Pipestone to Lead SW Loop" was a headline in the Daily Globe sports pages on Monday, Oct. 2, 1961.

"Slayton Edges Fulda, 28-19, to Maintain Lead in Seven Star Loop" was another, as was "Round Lake, Ceylon Pace Southern Star Pigskin Race."

Hey, that one rhymed.

"Adrian and Lake Wilson Boast Undefeated Records in Tri-County" was a fourth headline, while the one at the top of the page ran "Windom Eagles Romp to 13-0 Homecoming Win over Trojan Eleven."

"Maris Smashes 61st For Modern Record" was a smaller headline on the same page as the high school football games.

The biggest headline on the national page was "Colts Edge Vikings on Last Play of Tough Tilt" with the sub-heading "Heartbreaking Finish Leaves Team Dazed."

Nothing has changed too much in 50 years?

Down at the bottom was a small story with a heading, which ran:

"Warmath Undaunted After Opening Loss."

Yes, the Minnesota Gophers did not open the 1961 campaign until Sept. 30 and lost a 6-0 decision to Missouri -- coached by Minnesota native Dan Devine (Proctor High School and the University of Minnesota, Duluth), who would later coach the Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame (Rudy Ruttiger's senior season) -- in the wind, rain, sleet and snow of Memorial Stadium.

In a well-played, back-and-forth game, the Vikings had taken a 33-31 lead with 32 seconds left on Mike Mercer's fourth field goal of the game.

But, the Colts led by quarterback Johnny Unitas and star wide receiver Lenny Moore came back to win the game, 34-33, as time expired on Steve Myhra's 52-yard field goal.

George Shaw was the Vikings' quarterback and his main target was tight end Jerry Reichow, while rookies Ray Hayes and Tommy Mason did most of the rushing.

Jack Morris (not the baseball pitcher) was an outstanding defensive back for Minnesota -- in its first year in the NFL -- and center Bill Lapham, along with guards Gerry Huth and Mike Rabold, anchored the interior of the Vikings' offensive line.

Former Philadelphia Eagles' star quarterback Norm Van Brocklin was Minnesota's coach and he described the game this way:

"All in all, this loss was probably the best game yet for the Vikings and the most pleasing, yet the most disappointing."

Sound familiar?

Mike Eshleman scores five touchdowns, Roger Geertsema blocks punt

Among the high school highlights that weekend was Adrian's Mike Eshleman's five-touchdown performance in a 46-31 Dragons' victory over Edgerton.

Eshleman also tossed an 11-yard TD pass to Larry Wick, ran in for two extra-points (all were one-pointers then), averaged 43 yards on punts and finished the game with 18 tackles.

Round Lake's Roger Geertsema -- who years later would be the "Big Cahuna" of the Daily Globe sports department -- helped the Wildcats snap a 7-7 tie with Granada when he blocked an Eagles' punt early in the second quarter, which was recovered in the end zone by Jim Fink for a Round Lake touchdown.

A bit later, Bob Geertsema's touchdown pass to Fink lifted Round Lake to a 21-7 halftime lead.

Bob Geertsema's eight-yard TD run in the third quarter added to the Wildcats' lead.

Jerry Scherer scored Round Lake's first-quarter touchdown on a one-yard plunge and Tony Boyer added the extra point.

Offensive guards Dick Huehn and Terry Hanson were cited as being outstanding in the line for Round Lake, which improved to 4-0 with the win.

Dean Libra scored four touchdowns and passed for another in Jackson's 39-6 win over Pipestone. Libra returned a pass interception 70 yards for one Bluejays touchdown and caught a 45-yard aerial from quarterback Kent Borchard for another.

At Windom, all the points were scored in the first quarter as a 47-yard touchdown by Roger Stempfley and Daryle Hanson's touchdown pass to Dave Palm (followed by Stempfley's extra-point run) gave the Eagles a 13-0 lead, which they held on to for their Homecoming victory.

Those are just some of the many highlights that were happening back when Roger Maris hit No. 61 and Leuthold and Thoresen Clothiers in Worthington was selling a combination of a wool suit ($44.75), an all-wool topcoat ($39.95) and fur felt hat ($9.95) -- for a total price of $94.65.

Those were the days!

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