Roger Maris Hit the First of his 61 Home Runs at Tiger Stadium

Fifty years ago this April 26th, Yankee Roger Maris hit the first of his record 61 home runs right here at Tiger Stadium.

Up until the last month of the ’61 season Maris and teammate Mickey Mantle were neck and neck in a home run battle to break Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs set in 1927, while the Tigers and the Yankees battled for the pennant up until the first week of September. That same year Tiger first baseman Norm Cash would win the American League batting title with a .361 average.

In the fifth inning of Maris’s eleventh game of the season, he stroked a one out home run off of Tiger right hander Paul Foytack in front of just 4, 676 fans. The slugfest ended up in a 13-11 victory for the Yankees thanks to Mickey Mantle who hit his second homer of the game (7th of season) in the tenth inning off of Hank Aguirre.

Maris would go on to hit seven more home runs off of Tiger pitching on his way to the record. He hit three homers off of “The Yankee Killer” Frank Lary, one each against Don Mossi, Jerry Casale and Hank Aguirre, and his 58th homer against Terry Fox at Tiger Stadium.

In the book Sixty-One: The Team, The Record, The Men, by Tony Kubek and Terry Pluto,
Kubek provides a beautiful description of Maris at the plate for the 58th homer.

“Roger’s one home run I remember the most was not his sixty-first, but his fifty-eighth. We were playing in Detroit and I was on second base. Roger was at the plate and stepped out of the batter’s box. He seemed to be staring at the upper deck in right field. I looked out there, but I didn’t see anything. Suddenly a flock of about 250 Canadian geese appeared on the horizon, flying right over the right field roof in Tiger Stadium.

Roger took off his cap, wiped his brow, and just watched the geese. I know it couldn’t have been more than a minute but it seemed like about ten before he put his cap back on and got into the batter’s box. Nestor Chylak was the umpire, and I could see he was
getting a little nervous holding up the game but Chylak let Roger stand there and look at the geese.

Terry Fox was the pitcher and he wasn’t thrilled with the delay. He stood on the mound, rubbing up the ball and wondering what Roger was doing. But like Chylak, Terry never said a word. The game just stopped because Roger Maris wanted to watch some geese. Finally Roger was ready to hit. Fox threw him a pitch that was about a foot outside and six inches off the ground.

Roger went out and got it pulling a four hundred foot homer into the upper deck in right, just under where the geese had flown. I mentioned this to Roger and he said, “Tony, I can still see those geese. Watching them was so peaceful.”

When I was on the set of 61* at Tiger Stadium in 2000, the HBO movie directed and produced by Billy Crystal about the Maris and Mantle home run race, I remember there was some discussion as to whether Crystal was going to put that moment in the movie. Why it never happened I have no idea but it would have been nice. Maybe it would have looked to fake superimposing geese in the film. (But based upon all the goose droppings that now covers the grass at the Tiger Stadium site, maybe he could have found some extras.

Roger Maris swings and hits a triple off of Jim Bunning on September 17, 1961 just before hitting his 58th homer off of Terry Fox.

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