On October 1, 1961, Fargo Shanley grad and reigning league MVP Roger Maris had the biggest at-bat of his career.
It was the final game of the year, bottom of the 4th inning, and Maris had maybe two or three at-bats remaining to break Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs.
It was a roller coaster of a season that led up to that point. All year long, he and Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle were at the center of a media maelstrom as the “M & M Boys” both slugged homer after homer, chasing Ruth’s record. Maris, who wasn’t keen on the intense scrutiny of the New York sports media and not quite as media savvy as Mantle, bore the brunt of that attention.
But with that at-bat, facing Red Sox righty Tracy Stallard, Maris put all doubters to rest. On a 2-0 count, Maris sent a high fastball into the right-field seats for No. 61, sealing his place in baseball history.
“It was the biggest home run I ever hit,” Maris said in an Associated Press story that ran in The Forum on Oct. 3 that year. “I knew it was gone the minute I hit it. I can’t explain how I felt. I don’t know what I was thinking of as I rounded the bases. My mind was a blank.”
Maris shared a headline with another North Dakota product, Steve Myhra, in local reporting on his homer. Myhra booted a 52-yard field goal that weekend to lift the Baltimore Colts over the Minnesota Vikings.
Maris expressed relief in the ordeal finally drawing to a close.
“It takes off a lot of steam,” Maris told The Forum.
In its editorial on that day, The Forum congratulated both men for putting North Dakota on the national sports map and making “a lot of us forget the spooky, creepy time the world is having,” likely referencing escalating nuclear tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States.
While Maris’ home run was a done deal, the drama of the single-season home run record wasn’t. Earlier that year, Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick had declared that there would be two separate records, one for Ruth and one for Maris, after reasoning that Maris played in a 162-game season. Ruth hit his 60 homers in 1927, in 154 games.
Baseball writers and fans continued to draw sides in the debate. On Oct. 4, The Forum carried some water for Maris, citing a few sympathetic sources from around the country.
“But none attain the fervor of the Ruth idolators when it comes to the heights of indignation. They scorn Maris as a ballplayer – which is grossly unfair,” wrote Forum Sports Editor Eugene Fitzgerald.
History, of course, has been on Maris’ side. Eventually, the two records were done away with and one single season home run record - Maris’ - reigned supreme until it was broken in 1998 by Mark McGwire.
Maris, to his credit, rose above that drama, choosing to focus instead on being an asset to his team. On Oct. 4, with the record fresh in memory, the slugger teamed up with Mantle in an article written for The Forum breaking down the upcoming World Series from a hitter’s perspective and praising the Yankees infield.
The record wasn’t even the point for Maris. Hitting that 61st home run in that October 1 at-bat, that was the point.
“Whether I beat Ruth’s record or not is for others to say," Maris said, "but it gives me a wonderful feeling to know that I’m the only man in history to hit 61 home runs. Nobody can take that away from me."