So I guess it is a "big" deal that Big Mac has finally admitted that he took steroids. His bulging muscles, ridiculous statistics, and pathetic bumbling in front of Congress apparently weren't enough. The words have come down from the mouth of the re-emerged horse himself, and the headlines are screaming: Mark McGwire used steroids!
But there is another story that continues to fall by the wayside amidst the constant revelations of cheating: the story of Roger Maris. While McGwire and then Bonds happily cheated their way to the all time single season home run record, Maris' chase for the record was quite different.
Assaulting one of Babe Ruth's most hallowed marks (13 years before Aaron hit 715), and competing with the more popular, homegrown Mickey Mantle, Maris' ascent to the single season home run king was full of pain, stress, and strife. He was booed by the fans, ripped by the press, and when he finally broke the record he wasn't even given credit for his accomplishment in full. Bud Selig had no problem with laboratory created he-men blasting Maris' record, but then commissioner Ford Frick vowed to place an asterisk next to Roger's record because he failed to accomplish the mark in the 154 games in which Ruth played in 1927. (Frick would end up not doing this.)
Even after he left the game, Roger Maris never got to embrace his status. Discarded by the Yankees, he would eventually find a home in St. Louis where he finished his career, and in Florida where he ran a beer distribution company until he died of Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1985. But as late as 1980, Maris commented bitterly about his experience in '61. Speaking at the 1980 All-Star game, Maris lamented, "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing."
Maris died scorning his place in history because he himself was scorned for achieving it. This story has been told many times; the information is anything but new. But the irony in Roger's statement glares out once again with McGwire's admition. They acted like Maris was poisoning the record books when in fact he was simply and naturally making history. It was McGwire and Bonds who inarguably poisoned the record books, but instead of strife they received adulation and a possible spot in Cooperstown. But 49 years later, Roger Maris — the real home run king — is still getting the short end of the stick.
If Selig wants to finally put this right — now that all three men that broke Maris' record are admitted and/or implicated steroid users — the solution is very simple. Plan a day next season for Roger Maris that will be recognized in every ball park. Bring the Maris family back out, this time to Yankee Stadium, and anoint and announce to all of baseball that Roger Maris is the official single season home run king.
Oh… and wipe the statistics of these cheaters out of the record books for good, before the poisoning is permanent.
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