Sunday, August 21, 2011

WHY MANTLE & MARIS ARE STILL INTRIGUING TODAY

When I was a kid, my dad told me a story about the 1961 home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. When he told the story, it was the greatest event of his lifetime, and you could tell. His eyes would get big describing the tension and how Yankee fans took sides. many loved Mickey Mantle and wanted him to win it all because he was a fan favorite before Roger Maris ever put on pinstripes. Others, and there were far less, were rooting for the underdog, Roger Maris to win the crown. Ultimately though, there were many that just didn’t want the Babe to be knocked from the top. After all, 60 home runs in a single season was a huge accomplishment, but to have anyone else do it would almost be unheard of. After all, it was the Babe’s record and it wasn’t meant to be broken.

My dad was an usher at Yankee Stadium starting at 15 years old. He’d hop on a subway alone to get to work in the Bronx everyday for a few years. It was the way it was back then and for my dad, a Yankee fan, it was a dream come true.

The 60’s were an interesting time in the Bronx. The Yankees were still very good, but things went downhill after the 1964 season. He was there for a lot of it and learned from the best at the stadium, his peers, the other ushers. They were men much older than 15 and they’d been ushering since before he was born and probably saw the Babe Ruth play. They taught my dad the tricks of the trade. “Once you get the people to their seat. Stand there for a minute and shake your pocket so the change rattles around in there,” they’d tell him. “The people will HAVE to tip you then.” And they did. Before that tip, he wasn’t making any tips, after that, he was rich, a $10 week was huge.

Not to get off track, but to make my point, it was a simpler time back then, less to watch, less to do, which is why the Mantle and Maris home run race was so exciting in 1961. It was bigger than anything coming out of New York and it spread fast.

Once Mantle started to fall short and Maris started picking up steam, the whole Yankee Universe started to back their new hero collectively. Sure, there were many traditionalists that didn’t think Roger Maris had any business snagging the home run record from the greatest Yankee player of all time, Babe Ruth, but everything happens for a reason, and in that 1961 season, it was time for change.

The home run was deep to right field and Maris’s swing looked like slow motion, but it sailed into the stands and at that moment in 1961, so many emotions ran through people’s minds. Many were sad, but the majority of Yankee fans rejoiced. After all, once it was clear Roger Maris was the guy, you had to respect the feat. Besides, it was another Yankee breaking the record, not a Red Sock...not a Cub… it was Roger Maris, another New York Yankee, not only did the record stay in the family, but it put Roger Maris on the map. Once a quiet kid out of the Indians organization, this kid had a new home, the Bronx, with new fans, all of Yankeeland.

My dad talks about that moment fondly, because the whole summer made sense after that especially after winning the 1961 World Series as well. It’s the Yankee way. After that, there were so many other great moments that just made sense too after that, Bucky Dent’s home run, Aaron Boone, the Derek Jeter flip play,even Jim Abbott’s perfect game and Reggie Jackson cranking out 3 home runs in 1 game in 1977… all Yankee moments through baseball history, all that were supposed to happen to no other team but the a New York Yankees. That's why Derek Jeter finally recorded 3000 hits and that's why Mariano Rivera is now charging closer and closer to the all time Saves record of 601 currently held by Trevor Hoffman. Not because he's Mariano Rivera, but because he is the Great Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. All of these moments are truly beautiful. It’s tradition that runs so deep, it’s tremendous. And not only that… it’s our Yankees destiny.

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