1927 Home Run race: Babe Ruth v. Lou Gehrig, Yankee teammates. Thursday, December 1, 2016
1961 Home Run race: Roger Maris v. Mickey Mantle, Yankee teammates.
1998 Home Run race: Mark McGwire v. Sammy Sosa, Cardinal v. Cub.
The 1961 Home Run (HR) race is well known and documented, including in an HBO movie. This post will deal with the game to game aspect of the race, including two graphs that represent that.
The Yankees played one tie game, so the 1961 Yankees played 163 games. That was the first season of 162 games in the American League; the old schedule had been 154 games since the early 1900s.
Most HR in a season through 1961:
Foxx and Greenberg had been the only players to get close to Ruth's record of 60. Now with 5% more games and pitching diluted by expansion, the record was vulnerable.
Roger Maris: born September 10, 1934; previous high 39 in 1960.
Mickey Mantle: born October 20, 1931; previous high 52 in 1956.
In 1960 Maris had 35 HR in the first 99 Yankee games. See Aug. 6, 1960. His 1960 splits:
Maris was already a home run hitter and not because of Yankee Stadium. Nor had Maris had Mantle batting behind him most of the time in 1960. Maris batted 4th in 288 plate appearances (PA). Mantle batted 3rd in 296 PA. That's the most 1960 PA spots for each. Starting September 6, 1960 Yankee manager Casey Stengel batted Mantle lower in the lineup than Maris every game and then straight through the seven game 1960 World Series. In 1961 new Yankee manager Ralph Houk continued what Stengel had done at the end of 1960. In 1961 Mantle batted 4th in every game he started. Maris batted 3rd in 139 games (610 PA) he started. Other starts Maris batted:
4th 3, and only in games that Mantle did not start
The last of those low starts was May 17, 1961; Maris homered and Houk did not drop him again in the 1961 lineups. Maris had not been hitting and his OPS on May 16 was .667.
Maris hit his first homer in game 11. Mantle hit two and led Maris 7-1. Game 29 and 45:
Maris finally caught Mantle in game 45. But the two would duel all summer until Mantle finally faded and then became unable to play.
Mantle had led by as many as 7 in games 16, 18, 19, 28.
Maris led through game 71 but Mantle hit 2 HR in game 72 to tie Maris at 27 and then passed Maris in game 73. But Maris had another surge and homered in game 78 to lead 32-28. The season was about half over and Maris was more than half way to Babe Ruth's record of 60 homers. But Mantle bounced back again.
Tied at 45 as Ruth and Gehrig had been Sept. 6, 1927. Mantle, like Gehrig, would never lead again. But Maris hit number 45 August 13, 1961 in Washington against the new expansion Senators. Maris was way ahead of Ruth and Ruth's pace. Maris became the first player to reach 50 before September when he homered in Los Angels against the new expansion Angels on Aug. 22 (game 125). He added number 51 Aug. 26 (game 132) in Kansas City against the Athletics (not the Royals).
Mantle was stuck at 46, which he had hit in game 122. Mantle homered in games 132 and 133, the final ones in August. He and Maris had been compared to Ruth and Gehrig in 1927 when they battled and finished with 60 and 47. When Mantle tied Gehrig's total he joked to Maris that he had caught his guy, implying that Maris should go on and catch Ruth at 60.
So heading into the final month Maris had 30 games remaining and needed only 10 more the break the record. Mantle would become incapacitated later in September but he closed to within two.
In Detroit on Sept. 2 Maris hit two to go up 53-48 but the next day Mantle hit two homers to make it 53-50. They became the first and only teammates through 2016 to hit 50 homers in the same season. And Mantle homered in the next game: 53-51. Through 145 of 163 games: 56-53. It was unbelievable.
But then Mantle stalled. and would hit only one more home run 13 days after number 53 in game 157. Mantle was through. In 1927 the mighty Iron Horse Lou Gehrig had melted against the red hot Babe Ruth. Gehrig went 19 games without a homer. Now in 1961 Maris was alone with Ruth's ghost, which may have been worse than the Babe himself.
Ford Frick was a sports writer who knew Ruth and in 1961 Ford Frick was baseball commissioner. At mid season Commissioner Frick declared that if someone broke Ruth's home run record it would have to be done within the first 154 games, which was the schedule in 1927. The 162 game schedule was thought to be temporary and that the season would go back to 154 when more expansion teams were added. As that was delayed, the owners liked paying the players the same for 5% more games.
Since both the 1927 and 1961 Yankees each played one tie game that was factored in. Maris hit number 58 in game 152 in Detroit. The fateful game 155 was in Baltimore and Maris hit number 59. Maris was one short in the same number of games as Ruth had had in 1927. The home run race now seemed anticlimactic.
In the extra eight games of 1961 Roger Maris hit two more home runs to pass Babe Ruth. Those homers came in games 159 and 163.
The Yankee teams of both Ruth and Maris won the World Series in 1927 and 1961. Ruth and Maris each hit one home run in those World Series.
Previous post: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.