The Golden Anniversary of Maris's Remarkable Season is Being Forgotten

No one seems to be noticing that 50 years ago this month, Roger Maris was closing in on one of Major League Baseball's most revered records.

By September 12, 1961, Maris had hit 56 home runs and was within sight of the legendary Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60, which Ruth set in 1927.

But Maris's phenomenal home run production had suddenly tailed off as the 1961 season was drawing to a close. On September 12, he went homer-less against the Chicago White Sox and was in the middle of a seven-game dry spell. He wouldn't hit home run number 57 until September 16 against the Detroit Tigers.

Maris was feeling the pressure of his run on Ruth's record. Teammate Mickey Mantle also was in the chase for the record with 53 home runs, and he'd become the sentimental favorite among fans and sportswriters to break the record. But an injury would shorten Mantle's season, and he'd finish with 54 home runs.

Maris, 26 at the time, was a quiet, no-nonsense man who'd grown up in Fargo, North Dakota. (Click here to see an essay about a family connection to Maris.) He was unaccustomed to the intense public scrutiny that came with playing baseball in New York City and was annoyed by the constant presence of reporters. He'd been labeled by reporters as surly and uncooperative during post-game interviews. He was losing sleep, and was in such a state of anxiety that his hair was falling out.

And although there were still 16 games remaining on the Yankees' 1961 schedule after the game of September 12, Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick announced that same day that unless Maris or Mantle hit 61 home runs by the 154th game of the season, it would not count as a new single-season record.

The reason for Frick's ruling was because in 1961, the American League had added two new teams and extended its season to 162 games. So Mantle and Maris would play eight more games that season than Ruth's Yankees had played in 1927.

What Frick did not announce with his ruling was that he'd been a good friend of Ruth's and did not want to see the Babe's record eclipsed.

Maris had raised his home run total to 58 when the Yankees took the field in Baltimore September 19 for a double-header against the Orioles that would be games 153 and 154. He went hitless in the first game and managed only a single in the second game. So in the eyes of Ford Frick, Ruth's single-season record was still intact.

Maris hit homer number 59 the following day against Baltimore, and he hit number 60 when the Orioles came to Yankee Stadium on September 26.

Maris's final home run of the 1961 season came on October 1 against pitcher Tracy Stallard of the Boston Red Sox. In the fourth inning, Maris took two pitches outside the strike zone. But he connected on Stallard's third pitch, a knee-high fastball on the outside corner.

"There it is," announcer Red Barber said the moment the ball left Maris's bat and sailed into the right-field stands. "Sixty-one."

Maris rounded the bases with his head down and went straight to the Yankees' dugout after touching home plate. He seemed surprised at the lengthy ovation from about 23,000 fans who attended the game, and, with a big smile on his face, stepped out of the dugout twice to acknowledge the cheers.

No one would approach Maris's accomplishment until the steroid-riddled seasons of the late 1990s. (Click here for a Drye Goods essay about that.) Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all shattered Maris's single-season record, but all of them later were linked to using performance-enhancing steroids when they were piling up their astronomical home run totals.

In my mind, that makes Maris's feat all the more remarkable. Even though he had eight more games than Ruth, he did it without cheating. I've watched a lot of baseball games this season, and I don't recall hearing any mention of the golden anniversary of this achievement. And that seems wrong. Why isn't Major League Baseball officially observing this milestone? Could it be that they don't want anything that might remind fans of the absurd number of home runs hit during the steroid era?


Active 2011 Atlantic hurricane season predicted by CSU forecasters

Forecasters at Colorado State University are predicting that the summer of 2011 will bring another active hurricane season to the Atlantic Basin.

Meteorologists Phil Klotzbach and William Gray think 16 named tropical storms will form between June 1 and November 30. Of those storms, nine will develop into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph, and five of those will intensify into major hurricanes with winds exceeding 110 mph.

Klotzbach and Gray think the active season will be fueled by very warm waters in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The CSU forecasters also think that a weather phenomenon known as La Nina also will enhance storm formation in the Atlantic.

A La Nina event occurs when waters in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean are cooler than usual. The cooler waters often cause atmospheric conditions over the Atlantic Basin that allow tropical storms to develop. These favorable conditions can include diminished wind-shear. When wind-shear is high over the Atlantic, tropical storms have trouble forming and strengthening because the wind-shear disrupts their development.

If the 2011 hurricane season is active, it will continue a trend of busy seasons that began in 1995. Gray, a pioneer in the science of long-range hurricane forecasting, thinks this cycle of active seasons is caused by changes in salt content of the Atlantic waters. Salt level fluctuates because of ocean currents. An increase in the salt content makes ocean waters warmer, and hurricanes draw their enormous energy from warm water.

The cycle of active hurricane seasons can last 20 years or longer.

Last summer's hurricane season was the third-most active on record, but the activity went virtually unnoticed because no storm made landfall in the U.S. Meteorologists including Gray and Klotzbach don't think this kind of luck can continue.


Alabama Family Will Donate Historic House for Renovation as African-American History Museum

(NOTE: This is a news release I've sent out about the effort to renovate one of Plymouth's oldest and most historic structures.)

An Alabama family with North Carolina roots will donate an early 19th-century house dating back to the earliest days of Plymouth's history for renovation and use as a museum depicting African-American history and culture.

The house, listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Picot-Armistead-Pettiford House, will be donated by the family of Velma and James Braye of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama to a non-profit organization to be designated in Plymouth. The donation was arranged by the Plymouth Small Town Main Street Committee, with assistance from senior historian Carl Westmoreland of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

The Brayes, their daughter Linda Bulls, son-in-law George Bulls, and granddaughter Salena Bulls decided to donate the house after a private meeting in Plymouth April 1 that included family friend Peter McNair, Westmoreland and his wife Carol, and representatives of the Plymouth Small Town Main Street Committee.

Earlier that day, nine-year-old Salena Bulls said she thought it would be "great" if the house was used as a museum. "Like Salena, I think it's a wonderful thing that the house will be utilized as an African-American history museum," said Velma Braye, who grew up in the house. "It's something I've been wanting since 2000.

Braye's mother, Gladys Whitley, who died in 2000, was the house's last occupant.

Westmoreland said the house is a "capsule of history" whose historic stature is enhanced by its unusual succession of owners.

"Each owner made a significant contribution to Plymouth and to the whole notion of American striving and attainment," Westmoreland said.

The two-story wood-frame house overlooking the Roanoke River was built in 1814 by physician Julian Picot, a Frenchman who is thought to have come to the settlement that is now Plymouth in the 1780s after being shipwrecked on Ocracoke Island. Picot arrived in Plymouth at about the same time the town was established in 1787. Plymouth was incorporated in 1807, only seven years before Picot bought a lot at the corner of West Main and Monroe streets where he built the house.

Plymouth, located about six miles upstream from where the Roanoke River empties into the Albemarle Sound, became one of North Carolina's busiest ports after the nearby Dismal Swamp Canal opened in 1805. Ships loaded at Plymouth traveled down the Roanoke, across the Albemarle Sound, and through the canal to the deepwater port about 100 miles away at Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1844 the title to the house and lot was transferred to Robert Armistead, a Plymouth merchant. Robert Armistead died in 1857, but his brother Thomas lived in the house until after the Civil War. Plymouth saw heavy fighting during the war, and Thomas Armistead's house was one of only a handful of buildings that weren't heavily damaged or destroyed before the war ended in 1865.

Local oral history has long linked the house to the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves in the Antebellum South find their way to freedom. But some historians challenge that theory because the 1850 Census indicates that both Armistead brothers owned slaves.

Thomas Armistead's house was sold at a public auction in 1886 to William H. Hampton. The house stayed in the Hampton family until 1913, when it was bought by Jane Brinkley. The following year, Brinkley sold the house to Reuben Pettiford, an African-American brick mason.

Westmoreland, the historian, noted that this transaction in which a white owner sold a house to a black buyer was very unusual in 1914.

Reuben Pettiford died in 1916, but his descendants still own the house. The fact that the house has stayed in the hands of an African-American family for nearly a century and was used as a boarding house and hotel for blacks during the so-called "Jim Crow" era of segregation also is historically significant, Westmoreland said.

"We are delighted that the Braye family has decided to make this huge contribution to our effort to improve downtown Plymouth," said Willie Drye, chairman of Plymouth's Small Town Main Street Committee. "The Picot-Armistead-Pettiford House is one of North Carolina's most historic buildings, and the restoration of this great old house as a museum of African-American history and culture will be a milestone for our downtown commercial district. This will be a wonderful addition to our collection of museums focusing on Plymouth's rich maritime, Civil War and natural histories."

The Small Town Main Street Committee will immediately launch a fund-raising effort to put a new roof on the house and stabilize the historic structure, Drye said. Advisors from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will help plan the roof, he said.