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This Day in Yankees History: Roger Maris passes away as home run king

Maris passes away with 61 homers, tops in history; the Yanks fill A-Rod’s absence with a revolving door

Roger Maris Displaying Baseball and Jersey

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. With the offseason well underway, the Pinstripe Alley team has decided to continue the revived program in its new format. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (December 14)

35 Years Ago

At the conclusion of a years-long battle with lymphatic cancer, the single-season home-run king, Roger Maris, passes away at just 51-years-old. With MVPs in 1960 and his magical season of ’61, Maris headlined Murderers’ Row: The Redux, featuring Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Bill Skowron. In 1961, Maris clubbed his 61st homer of the season in its 162nd game, breaking his tie with Babe Ruth’s 1927 total.

As both Mantle and Maris proceeded through the summer of 1961 with a chance to break the Babe’s record, the infamously rumor-mongering New York media (*raises hand*) invented a rivalry between their homegrown hero and the import from Kansas City. While he may have won the race past 60, Maris’ on-field success was seen by some Yankee fans as an affront to the icons of the franchise themselves, Ruth and Mantle, and was never beloved like other Yankee greats; he even received death threats during 1961’s torrid stretch of homers.

After winning two World Series with the club, and another with the Cardinals, Maris was enshrined in the Yankees’ Monument Park and his No. 9 jersey was retired by the Yankees in 1984. Since his peak was as short as it was bright, and he only played more than 140 games four times in his 12-year career, Maris was unable to amass the career stats that might compare favorably to the average Hall of Famer, finishing with fewer than 1,500 hits and 300 homers. Although he’s no longer eligible for the standard vote, MLB’s Golden Days (1950-1969) Era Committee could potentially still choose to enshrine Maris in 2022 after convening next December (their planned vote was postponed over the summer).

Eight Years Ago

Kevin Youkilis signs a one-year, $12 million deal to become one of an eventual 230 different players to have donned New York’s navy in addition to Boston’s blue and red. Upon joining the Yanks, Youk temporarily took over the hot corner from Alex Rodriguez, who was at the time rehabbing from hip surgery.

In August of that year, A-Rod got popped for using steroids, and was suspended for the entire 2014 season. After the worst offensive season of his career, the then 34-year-old Youkilis departed for Japan and retirement shortly thereafter, leaving the Yankees in need of another third baseman.

At first, they turned to an internal solution, calling up the 26-year old rookie, Yangervis Solarte. He manned the bag until the team turned him and minor league pitcher Rafael De Paula into Chase Headley, in what ended up being a lateral move over the next couple of seasons. For the Padres, Solarte posted 6.3 WAR between 2015 and 2017 compared to Headley’s 5.1 WAR for the Yankees during that same stretch.

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The most productive Yankee born today wasn’t even a Yankee—he was a Highlander, and not for long, playing on the proto-pinstripers for all of 1904 and just 32 games of 1905. According to the fascinating bio written by John Stahl on SABR.org, John Anderson was known as “Honest John” for his reluctance to argue with umpires, “Long John” or “Big John” for his well above average 6’2” stature, and my favorite of the bunch, “Swedish Apollo,” for his Scandinavian heritage and ectomorphic, chiseled look.

One of three Norwegian immigrants to play in the majors, he spent the majority of his 14-year career, from 1894-1908, as one of the game’s premier switch-hitting outfielders. With a career WAR of 28.8, his sensational speed led to consistent offensive production, but stumbled out of the gate on defense due to his mediocre feel for fielding flies, and inaccurate arm. In fact, before becoming a full-time position player, Anderson was cast as a pitcher for his particularly strong arm, but walked 13 and hit three more before that experiment came to a screeching halt.

Long before his short-lived pitching debacle, Anderson was born in Sarpsborg, Norway in 1873. His Norwegian father and Swedish mother brought an eight-year-old John to Worcester, Massachusetts, the place he made his home again after the conclusion of his playing days. In Worcester, the town with the country’s highest density of Swedish immigrants, he met his Swedish wife, Emma, had two Swedish-American children, eventually settling to work on his farm there before passing away in 1949, at age 75.

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We thank Baseball Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.