Friday, May 28, 2010

Remembrances: Baseball 1961


Several days ago, while looking for something else entirely, I came across the Tiger Stadium rain checks pictured above, dated September 17, 1961. I didn’t even remember that I had these little bits of memorabilia. But I certainly did remember that game. Or, at least I thought I did. One’s memory can play tricks. Sometimes a bit of research reveals that one’s most cherished memories have been manufactured out of proverbial whole cloth by one’s own mind.

The 1961 season lives in my baseball-lovin’ heart as the very best season ever. The home team—the Detroit Tigers of Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, Charley Maxwell, Stormin’ Norman Cash, Frank Lary, and, yes—Jim Bunning—as well as a whole roster of other heroes, battled the monstrously strong New York Yankees neck-and-neck for the American League pennant for the first three quarters of the season. But the primary excitement was provided by the hated Yankees, as both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle spent the season on a pace to break Babe Ruth’s single-season homerun record of 60 round-trippers. The fragile Mantle broke down late in the year, but Maris soldiered on. My father'd had the presence of mind to purchase advance sale tickets for a late-season Tiger-Yankee game. He took me, along with my friend Jimmy Malcolm, to the stadium early enough to watch BP. Although we didn't get the foul ball we hoped for, we were both in heaven throughout the entire twelve-inning contest.

My memory had been that we saw Roger Maris hit number 58 that day. This was a significant homerun, in that it tied Maris with legendary Tiger hero, Hank Greenberg, and the equally renowned slugger, Jimmie Foxx, as the only men other than the Babe himself to reach that figure. But was this a true memory, or merely some retroactive fantasy, concocted out of dreamstuff by my inner fan?

Maris, of course, went on to hit 61 homeruns that year. He didn’t get number 60 within the 154 games that measured the season in the Babe’s day; but he did set a new record, nonetheless. It was not difficult, after finding those rain check stubs and confirming the date of the game, to go online and find a day by day run-down of Maris’ homeruns. Happily, this confirmed my memory: I’d been in the house for number 58. You can have a gander at the nostalgia-provoking inventory here.

Fortuitously, 1961 was the one season during which I kept a day-by-day scrapbook. The write-up of this memorable game is on the page below:


I was 14 years old during that season. I was on the brink of developing other interests—including, but not limited to, girls—that would somewhat dilute my obsession with baseball. But 1961 remains for me a season to remember. And remember I do.