A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Roger Maris

Waking up yesterday morning to a story in the New York Times about how the U.S. and Israel worked together to release a worm into the Iranian nuclear program so that it couldn't get up and running has me contemplating exactly what is the point of the media. On one hand, I have to ask myself if this is something above "no duh." I mean really. Why on Earth WOULD WE NOT try to take out a hostile country's nuclear program that could hurt us or our friends? On the other hand, I have to ask myself if this is about some kind of attack on the U.S. as a whole. I mean, if this is top secret, and we'll assume that it is, what business does this have playing out in the media?
But alas, this is a baseball site, not a political outlet, and I use media attacks to lead into Roger Maris and the transition from the media loving players to attacking them viciously. Sure, there was Ted Williams before him, but was there ever an attack as concentrated and individually damaging as that, which was perpetrated against Roger for being "boring" (at least compared to Babe Ruth) and unable to stomach stupid questions (considering many NASCAR guys give the same kind of F U response as Roger and Cee Lo Green) and just unwilling to provide a day in day out story while pursuing the home run record that he was deemed unworthy of.
Currently, I am reading Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero, and overall, it's pretty good. You can skip the first few chapters about how his grandparents moved to America from Europe and how his parents relationship started out in dysfunction (it ends in divorce - so it goes) and start about 30 pages into the book at chapter 4.
I've always been a Roger Maris fan since I first heard his story in 1998 as Mark McGwire pursued his record. It was sad to hear about the asterisk and the total devastation of what should have been a joyous race between Maris and Mantle (who had been hated in many circles for not being Joe DiMaggio - at least until Roger came along). Maybe the media made up for this with the race between McGwire and Sosa (and maybe the Curse of Not Being Babe Ruth made the media feel inclined to destroy them and everyone else who got close to Babe Ruth in a way that wasn't worthy - steroids be just a cover story).
But in the end, Roger took a pitch deep on the final day of the season and was branded forever with the asterisk that was there despite it's never been typed into the official record books and for 37 years he suffered in pain despite a momentary stay with the St. Louis Cardinals in 67 and 68. He then retired and died in 1985, a tragic end to a great human being. I wish I would have known his story sooner, but the fact that I do is a story I will continue to tell throughout the course of this blog.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes Maris or baseball. I've been reading it nightly in sight of a teddy bear that belongs to my wife. More than anything else, that bear reminds me of her, and when I think about it and her, I think about how wonderful she is to me. For our wedding, she knew that gifts are given between husband and wife (I didn't, so if you're reading, take note), and she gave me the Roger Maris PSA8 rookie that I always joked she would buy me if she truly loved me. When I took it out of the box, I was shaking, and I had no idea what to say. I felt like such a fool for not knowing that I had to get her a gift as well (we ended up putting a lot of money towards the things that she wanted for our home that we bought a few months later). I ran all over Toledo looking for something worthy of her and feeling totally freaked out on the night before our wedding.
Even now, I don't know if I feel worthy of such a great gift. I'll occasionally open the locked box and pull Roger out of his protective cloth bag - not all the way mind you - and look on his visage and think of all that his family went through in 98, all that he went through from 1961 until he left baseball a completely broken man, and how his wife came through for him above and beyond the call of duty (something completely left out of Tom Clavin and Danny Peary's aforementioned book).
Maybe Roger was the best way to give me a physical gift that came through to me, but to be honest, nowhere am I happier in the gift I was given than the "I do." And perhaps that's hokey, but alas... it is what makes me happy in life.
And that thought and her presence is what keeps me from feeling the news of the world in a way that makes me sad as I wait for spring and new life and no more snow - just warmth and good times.

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