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Published September 30 2011

Forum editorial: Can it be 50 years since ’61?

Every baseball fan knows the story. Fargo’s Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s 60-home-run mark on Oct. 1, 1961. It’s forever enshrined: “61 in ’61.”

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of that remarkable achievement. Maris and New York Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle had been on a home-run tear that summer. Both of them were threatening the greatest record in baseball. By early fall, Mantle had faded. Maris had not. He kept on pace and hit No. 61 to a packed house at Yankee Stadium.

We say again: “The greatest record in baseball.” There is no doubt it was then, and given the recent steroid-tainted history of the home-run record, Maris’ 61 is still the greatest record in the game.

Yet the man who played ball as a youngster in Fargo is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. The reasons, all flawed, are many. They’ve been talked about for years. Fans of the Fargo slugger blame the asterisk that was attached to the record because the Maris season was longer than the Ruth season. Others blame the hostile New York baseball press for wanting the golden boy hedonist Mantle to break the record, not the taciturn, unassuming athlete from North Dakota who had little use for hobnobbing with the press fraternity.

Years passed. Maris was passed over by the baseball writers who vote for Hall of Fame inductees. Even the Veterans Committee, which had been Maris’ last hope of entering the hall, failed to step up and vote him in.

Maris does have an impressive display of his baseball career in the Hall of Fame. During the 50th anniversary observances of 61 in ’61, his home-run record was recognized and praised. The Maris family and some of his former Yankee teammates were on hand a few days ago in Yankee Stadium to honor Maris the man and Maris the ballplayer. The Yankees, at least, understand how monumental his record-breaking 1961 season was.

And so do his many fans in Fargo and elsewhere. Even after a half-century, home run No. 61 resonates through baseball’s history and baseball’s record books. And the Hall of Fame? Of course he should be there. That he is not is one of the hall’s major omissions.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.