Fargo loves Roger Maris, still the biggest sports hero around these parts 56 years after breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record and 32 years after Roger’s death.
Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961 for the New York Yankees, besting Ruth’s mark by one. Maris held the record until 1998, when it was topped by Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66). Sosa eclipsed 61 two more times and McGwire once before Barry Bonds left them in the dust by belting 73 homers in 2001.
That left Maris seventh on the all-time list. But there was a hitch, of course. Bonds, Sosa and McGwire were all implicated or suspected of using steroids, calling into question the legitimacy of their home runs. This allowed Maris backers to claim their guy still owned the “legitimate” record because Roger didn’t cheat. The irony of North Dakotans making this claim was not lost on most of them; Maris’ 1961 season long had an imaginary asterisk placed next to it because he played eight more games than Ruth.
A North Dakota-based billboard company put up signs in 2010 proclaiming Maris the “‘Legimate’ Home Run King.” One still stands by Newman Outdoor Advertising’s Fargo office on Main Ave.
Giancarlo Stanton must have a little Fargo in him, even if it’s entirely possible he doesn’t know we exist.
The Miami Marlins slugger has been on a tear lately, hitting home runs in six straight games until finally being blanked Wednesday. That brought his total to 44 with more than a month remaining in the season. While getting to Bonds’ record of 73 is out of reach, there’s a chance Stanton could become the first “clean” player to surpass Maris’ 61 homers.
To Stanton, that would mean he broke the legitimate record. Asked this week whether he considers Maris’ 61 homers to be the real homer record, Stanton said, “Considering some things, I do.”
“You grow up watching (the movie ‘Sandlot’). You grow up watching those films of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and these guys and 61 always had been that printed number as a kid,” Stanton said.
Stanton, though, knows his opinion doesn’t carry any weight. The record book is clear that Bonds holds the single-season home run record.
“But at the same time it doesn’t matter,” Stanton acknowledged. “The record is the record. But, personally, I do (think 61 is the record).”
It’s always made for an interesting debate, since a large number of fans believe baseball’s Steroid Era was a stain on the game and Bonds, McGwire and Sosa should be stricken from the record book (or at least have asterisks placed by their names). They haven’t been selected for the Hall of Fame, despite gaudy career statistics.
Other fans excuse their sins, saying sluggers throughout history have benefited from advantages those before them didn’t have. Ruth, they say, only had to face white pitchers because the game wasn’t integrated when he played. Maris and Hank Aaron played when amphetamines were commonly used by players to give them extra energy. Modern players travel in luxurious comfort and have the benefit of medical science to stay healthy and fresher throughout the long season.
One fact remains, though: Only one player since 1927 has hit more than 60 home runs in a season without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Maybe that’s why Stanton, who is 27 years old, subscribes to the old-school record book.
It’s so very Fargo of him.