Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Roger Maris
This is the fourth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”
What is the most famous number in baseball, if not all of sports?
A strong case can be made that 61, the number of home runs Roger Maris hit during the 1961 season when he broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 set in 1927, would be chosen by many.
It is doubtful that there are many baseball fans who aren’t aware of Roger Maris’ pre-McGwire / Sosa / Bonds record. (Incidentally, it is often overlooked that Maris’ 61 home runs remains the record for A.L. hitters.)
I have my doubts, though, that very many fans, except Maris’ most adamant Hall of Fame supporters, know exactly how many home runs Maris hit during the totality of his 12-year Major League career, not to mention how many home runs he hit over his seven-year tenure in Yankee pinstripes.
This led me to the primary question I chose to research for this post, “How many home runs did Roger Maris hit during his career?” I also decided to add an obvious follow-up, “How many home runs did Maris hit as a member of the New York Yankees?”
To begin with, Maris was just 26-years old when he hit his legendary 61 home runs. Though mentally and physically drained by the ordeal, it wouldn’t have been out of the question that going into his age 27-season, if reasonably healthy, he could have expected to have approached perhaps 50 home runs, (at the very least, 40 home runs), in his follow-up season.
After all, Ruth was already 32-years old when he slugged 60 homers in ’27, and he followed up that performance by swatting another 54 in 1928.
Maris, however, never reached as many as 40 homers either before or after the ’61 season. In fact, the 39 home runs that Maris hit in 1960, his first of two consecutive MVP seasons, was the second most home runs he ever hit in one year.
Therefore, his 1962 season, during which he hit 33 home runs, must assuredly have been viewed as a major disappointment by Yankee fans, as well as by Maris himself.
Still, during the three-year period from 1960-62, Maris slugged an impressive 133 home runs. By contrast, his teammate Mickey Mantle never hit more than 128 over a three-year period, (1956-58.)
But those 133 home runs represent fully 48% of all the homers Maris hit in his career. Thus, nearly half of his total career value was compiled during just about one-quarter of his actual career. In fact, as measured by WAR as well, Maris accumulated 17.4 WAR over that three-year stretch, exactly 48% of his 36.2 career WAR.
The answer, then, to my original question, “How many home runs did Roger Maris hit during his career?” is that Maris hit 275 career home runs, good for 165th all-time, tied with Dean Palmer, Brian Downing, and a recently retired Yankee, Jorge Posada.
As for Maris’ tenure with the Yankees, he hit 203 of his career home runs as a member of the Bronx Bombers. That total currently ranks 14th on the all-time Yankees home run list, two behind Dave Winfield, and one ahead of Bill Dickey.
Maris’ relatively brief 12-year career was largely defined by one memorable season. But, Hall of Fame discussions aside, Maris’ legacy will probably outlast those of the vast majority of players in the Hall of Fame, regardless of where he ranks on any particular list of statistics.