Academic journal article Nine

Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero

Academic journal article Nine

Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero

Article excerpt

Tom Clavin and Danny Peary. Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero. New York: Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 2010. 422 pp. Cloth. $26.99.

Some in the press called him surly. Others labeled him a whiner. To Robert Creamer in 1963 he was "an unsatisfactory hero." But much of this perception, as Tom Clavin and Danny Peary make abundantly clear in their excellent biography of Roger Maris, was created by the press: "With relentless negativity, they drove him into becoming exactly what they wanted him to be: a bitter person whom anyone would have difficulty calling a hero" (263).

It's not that Maris was entirely blameless or did nothing to contribute to his problems with the press. He was an intensely private man, a no-nonsense player who found it impossible to open up to anyone but those closest to him. He was direct and abrupt to a fault, refusing to suffer fools, even if doing so would have benefited his image. And according to Clavin and Peary, he was unforgiving toward those he felt had wronged him in some way. To illustrate the point, the authors tell the story of Mars's refusal to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Yankee Stadium in 1973. In late 1966, Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail sent Maris to the Cardinals without informing the player, even though Maris had told the GM months earlier his preference to retire rather than be traded. It engendered a decades-long hatred of MacPhail. Confronting the Yankee boss in the spring that year, Maris told him, "If the Cardinals have an Old-Timers Day, I go. If you have one, I don't. Is that plain enough?" (352).

Clavin and Peary interviewed well over a hundred of Mars's surviving family members, friends, teammates, and former opponents in building their portrait of a complex, misunderstood personality. They delved extensively into his childhood, addressing such issues as the marital conflict between his parents, and his mother's lifelong feud with the Maras branch of the family (which led to the change in the spelling of his last name), to explain his obsession with privacy. "He was such a bad interview," they assert, "because he grew up being secretive about his family, and, even more so than other Midwesterners, thinking questions of any type were rude and an invasion of his privacy" (168).

They also paint a picture of a loving family man and a great teammate. Those interviewed testify to his integrity, modesty, humility, kindness, and sense of humor, traits not seen--or outright ignored--by the press. It was a side of him that Maris seemed to intentionally keep hidden from those he considered to be outsiders. The authors relate a tale that captures the essence of the man: During a series in Baltimore late in the 1961 season, Maris and friend Whitey Herzog slipped by reporters to twice visit a sick child in Johns Hopkins Hospital. While public knowledge of this event would have gone a long way toward humanizing the star, "Maris never wanted publicity when he visited hospitals during his career. …

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