Archive for Saturday, March 11, 2006

Time to give Maris his record back

March 11, 2006


Nearly a half-century ago, they tried to devalue Roger Maris' record.

They put an asterisk by it.

They said it was tainted.

Richard Maris, Roger's youngest son, laughs now at the timeless parallelism.

"They tried to cheapen Dad's record then, and now it's been cheapened even more," Richard says from his home in Gainesville, Fla.

Notice how the son still calls it "Dad's record." Maybe we should all start doing the same.

I've never been one to side with pandering politicians, but the words of Byron Dorgan - a Democratic senator from Maris' home state of North Dakota - are starting to sound better.

"Some of us," Dorgan said during last year's congressional hearings on steroids, "believe that Roger Maris' home-run record still stands."

If anybody has been robbed of his place in history by the hulked-up, bulked-up, steroid-ridden sluggers in modern-day baseball, it is Maris. Never has his record 61 home runs in the summer of '61 seemed so honorable, so legitimate, so untainted. Never has he deserved more credit than he does today - 45 years after he surpassed the Bambino's mythic milestone.

"And the only enhancement Dad used," Richard says, "was cigarettes. He smoked (unfiltered) Camels, and I doubt they helped him hit any more home runs."

With an incriminating book documenting Barry Bonds' steroid use set to hit the stores in the coming days, we now have strong circumstantial evidence that everyone who ever broke Maris' record cheated to do it. Reality has stuck a syringe into the over-inflated balloon bodies of Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

McGwire and Sosa, who both broke Maris' record during the fraudulent home run chase of 1998, came off as laughable liars when they testified during congressional hearings. Bonds reportedly told a grand jury during the BALCO investigation that he "unknowingly" took steroids given to him by a trainer, but a new book alleges he intentionally took nearly every kind of performance-enhancer known to man, woman and cow.

Bonds allegedly took human growth hormone, women's fertility drugs and a steroid that enhances the muscle quality of beef cattle. Who knew Adolph's Meat Tenderizer could improve bat speed?

"When you hear all this stuff, it just makes you shake your head," Richard Maris says. "But it's not up to me to cast stones. Dad would have never jumped up and down and screamed, 'I've been cheated! I've been cheated!' so I'm not going to do it, either. That's for baseball to decide; it's for fans to make up their own minds."

I've already made up mine. I say give Maris his record back. If baseball can put an asterisk by Maris' name for 30 years because he played in eight more games than Ruth, it can put a skull-and-crossbones next to Bonds' records because they've been chemically contaminated.

Maris was only 51 when he died of cancer in 1985. Sadly, when he was put into the ground, the asterisk was buried with him. It wasn't removed until 1991 by then-commissioner Fay Vincent.

Funny thing, though. Maris never was appreciated like he should have been when he set the record nearly a half-century ago, but we treasure him today even though he no longer holds the record.

"Dad was proud of that record," Richard Maris says. "And, believe me, his family is still proud of it."

As they should be.

Now more than ever.


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