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Published August 07 2011

Virginia man campaigning for Maris

Fargo - Jay Smith has been telling his friends for years that former New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris belongs in the Hall of Fame.

But this year was the perfect time to attempt to do something about it.

You see, this is the 50th anniversary of Maris’ historic 61 home run season of 1961.

That was the year Maris had the baseball world riveted to his every swing as he eclipsed Yankees legend Babe Ruth’s single-season record.

Smith, who grew up in Boston and is now the CEO of a public relations firm in Virginia, is 61 years old.

Oh, sweet synergy.

“I’m just a guy who happened to be a fan through all these years, and I thought Roger was shortchanged and deserved to be in the Hall of Fame for a variety of reasons,” said Smith, who served as the press secretary for former House Republican Leader John J. Rhodes of Arizona from 1973-77.

Smith says he can’t remember seeing Maris play in person. But he’s sure he must have watched the former Fargo Shanley High School star athlete play against the Boston Red Sox when the Yankees visited Fenway Park in the 1960s.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters, Smith says, is that Maris’ career stacks up with many players already in the Hall of Fame.

And time is running out to get the two-time MVP into Cooperstown.

“I dug deep and went into all the stats,” Smith said.

“He compares quite favorably. I still talk to a lot of baseball fans, ardent baseball fans, who just assume he is already in the Hall of Fame. I guess they didn’t get the memo.”

Smith recently created the Facebook fan page “Get Roger Maris in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

He’s collected almost 600 signatures on an online petition that he plans to forward to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee.

The Veterans Committee is in charge of adding players to the ballot that are no longer eligible through the regular Baseball Writers Association of American vote.

In his petition, Smith outlines Maris’ case by comparing the Yankees slugger’s career with Hall of Famers Bill Mazeroski, Phil Rizzuto, Red Schoendienst and Richie Ashburn.

“They were all great ball players who had their own style that has made baseball what it is today,” Smith writes in the petition. “The only difference is they are in the Hall of Fame and Roger is not. … Isn’t it time after 41 years that Roger get the credit he deserves and he gets in too?”

Smith, whose PR firm has worked on several successful political campaigns throughout the country, said he’s unsure if Maris will get into the Hall if he doesn’t get in on the steam of the 50th anniversary of one of baseball’s greatest feats.

In an effort to build momentum, Smith recently sent out a news release indicating that current baseball commissioner Bud Selig backed Maris’ bid for the Hall of Fame at a meeting with the Phoenix Area Chamber of Commerce during Major League Baseball’s All-Star weekend.

Smith quotes Selig: “I certainly agree that Roger Maris should be in the Hall of Fame.”

Selig could not be reached for comment.

Smith said he will likely attempt to contact the members of the Veterans Committee about putting Maris on the ballot.

“You come across these detractors who say he only broke the home run record once,” Smith said. “That’s like saying Jonas Salk only invented the polio vaccine once, or that Columbus only discovered America once. I think he should be in. That’s all I can say.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found

at www.areavoices.com