Last month, I wrote about a 22-inning game in June 1962 between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers that lasted seven hours and ended during the Ed Sullivan variety television program.
Some New Yorkers e-mailed me afterwards to let me know they remember flipping channels to follow both the game and the star-studded 14th anniversary Sullivan show. One fellow congregant here in Detroit told me he was with a bar mitzvah party that went to the game and stayed until benchwarmer outfielder Jack Reed ended the game with the only home run of his major league career.
Another said his parents had their first date at the game and also stayed for the duration. While his mother didn’t catch the home run ball in the 22nd inning, she did catch a foul ball by Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, as well as a future husband.
What I found most interesting about the 22-inning game (which the Yankees won, in case you didn’t know Reed was a Yankee) was that Yogi Berra, 37 years old at the time, caught all 22 innings. Roger Maris also played all 22 innings.
Maris batted .256 with 33 home runs in 1962 – a down year compared to the previous season when he hit 61 home runs – one more than Babe Ruth’s record 60 homers in 1927. Controversy reigned as Maris reached home run number 60; Ruth had set his record in a 154-game season while Maris was playing in a 162-game season (eight games were later added to the schedule after two new franchises were added to the American League).
As Maris edged towards Ruth’s single-season homer mark, baseball commissioner Ford Frick suggested that if home run 60 or higher came after the 154th game of the season, Ruth’s mark would stand as the record. In fact, Maris reached 60 in game 159 and his 61st homer came in game 162, yet his accomplishment was considered a new record nonetheless.
Maris’s batting average that year was .269 with 590 at-bats. Ruth, meanwhile, had batted .356 in 1927 in 540 at-bats. In a 15-year career, Ruth had an average of .342 with 714 home runs, while Maris played 12 years and had a career average of .260 and 275 round-trippers.
Ruth was also a great pitcher before becoming an everyday outfielder for the Yankees. Ruth’s career pitching record (mostly with the Boston Red Sox) was 94-46 with an earned run average of only 2.24.
It’s really not fair to compare anyone to Babe Ruth, as he was the best of the best. Maris was a fine player, a defensive outfielder with a great throwing arm, and a real gentle man and a gentleman. Ralph Houk, who managed the Yankees in 1961, told me 15 years later that he and his teammates loved Maris as he was not a selfish player.
Houk related that on several occasions during the ’61 season, Maris bunted to advance a runner instead of swinging for the fences. Maris was more interested in the team winning than in adding to his personal home run totals.
If you were to ask baseball fans, “Who was a better hitter over his career – Norm Cash or Roger Maris?” – nine out of 10 would answer Maris. But numbers tell a different story. In 1961, Cash, who was the first baseman for the Detroit Tigers (hence my interest) led the league in batting with a .361 average. He played in the major leagues for 17 seasons, batted .271, and hit 377 home runs, while Maris had a .260 career average and 275 homers. Cash had 11 seasons with 20 or more home runs; Maris only had six.
I have great memories of the outgoing Cash. In my first year on the baseball beat, I encountered Cash on the field on a Sunday standing in foul territory near the Tigers dugout. None of the other Tigers players were on the field yet as game time was two hours away and the stadium gates were just opening to fans.
Wearing a full uniform and a big grin, he asked me to warm up with him. He tossed his first base glove to me and we played catch until one of the coaches trotted out of the dugout and I tossed the ball to him and the glove back to Cash.
Norm Cash, nicknamed “Stormin’ Norman” in 1961, was one of the most popular players with fans and players of his era. Cash and Maris both died too young. Cancer claimed Maris in December of 1985 at age 51 while Cash died by drowning in October of 1986, also at age 51.