Plenty has been done to preserve Roger Maris’ legacy.
Twenty years after his death, respect continues to be paid to the former single-season home run record holder and his family.
A museum at Fargo’s West Acres shopping center pays homage to Maris. The movie “61*” about his 1961 pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record sparked interest in a new generation of fans. The Roger Maris Celebrity Benefit Golf Tournament and Auction today and Monday will raise thousands of dollars to fight cancer.
Yet one question about his legacy still lingers: Do steroid allegations facing baseball’s biggest stars strengthen Maris’ spot in baseball history.
“It (the steroid accusations) probably made what he did look better,” said Pat Maris, Roger’s widow. “To hold a record for 37 years, and then boom, boom, boom … it was a different situation.”
Maris, five of her six children and eight grandchildren are in Fargo to attend the charity events.
Some feel Major League Baseball owes it to the Maris family to clean up the game as a tribute to achievements made by Roger and players in his time.
“Major League Baseball owes it to them,” said state Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson. “I don’t think Pat Maris needs to even deal with the problem.”
Heitkamp and the North Dakota Senate passed a resolution asking MLB to restore Maris’ old record – 61 home runs set in 1961 – as the true record if the steroid accusations were found to be true.
“The home run record, to me, is Roger Maris’,” Heitkamp said. “The people that took it from him, quite clearly – and I have no proof to back this up – were on steroids. If that’s the case, the record is Roger’s.”
The senate’s resolution came after congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball and allegations against home run king Barry Bonds, past record holder Mark McGwire and sluggers Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco.
McGwire, who broke Maris’ home run record in 1998, didn’t admit to doing steroids. However, his unwillingness to answer many of Congress’ biggest questions led to public disgust.
“I hope things will turn around for baseball,” Pat Maris said.
Kevin Maris, Roger and Pat’s youngest son, said the family hasn’t spoken to McGwire recently but still considers him a friend.
McGwire annually gives over $6,000 to benefit the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.
Some members of the Maris family agree that the steroid accusations helped shed a positive light on what Roger accomplished.
Yet, they still think his chances of gaining a Hall of Fame nomination are slim, no matter how hard his supporters fight.
“It might happen one day. If it comes, it comes,” Pat Maris said. “It would be a wonderful honor, but he’s had a lot of honors.”
Friends of the family, such as benefit committee member Jim Deutsch, are willing to stand up for the local hero.
“He (Roger) was doing things before anyone knew what a steroid was,” said Deutsch, a longtime supporter of the Fargo Shanley High School graduate. “What’s gone on just proves what an incredible athlete Roger was back in 1961.”
North Dakota lawmakers passed another resolution earlier this year, urging the 85-member Hall of Fame veterans’ committee to vote for Maris based on his contributions to baseball.
Hall of Fame pitcher and veterans’ committee member Phil Niekro said Maris’ time may come. And it may be sooner than most think.
“There’s too much talk about it,” Niekro said. “His name will never leave the game of baseball.”
Niekro, who attended last year’s benefit, said it wasn’t his place to speak about the steroid issue, although he said he holds a great deal of respect for what kind of a player Maris was.
“There was nothing really flashy about him,” Niekro said. “He was major league all the way.”
If Maris does have a chance at joining the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., his clean, old-school image may be the ticket.
“It’s a nice legacy to have,” Pat Maris said.