A slugger's story
By BABITA PERSAUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
Out stepped 30 of them.
His sons and daughters, six in all. Pat, his widow, who lives in Gainesville now. Roger Maris' mother, Corrinne Maris. Nephews and nieces.
The HBO movie 61*, premiering Saturday night, "shows the human side," said Roger Maris Jr., who was 3 in the summer of 1961.
That summer his father and Mickey Mantle jockeyed for Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a season.
In the last game of the season, Maris, a kid from Fargo, N.D., broke the record.
Fans wanted Mantle to do it. They loved Mantle. He was charismatic, charming, always quotable. Maris was called the Most Vacant Personality by reporters, a cruel play on Most Valuable Player.
"People read what the sports writers wrote, but no one really knew what he went through," said Maris Jr. The family hadn't told the story.
"We've always been private people," said Pat Maris on Wednesday night. Billy Crystal they trusted. He was a big-time Yankees fan and a friend of Mantle's before his death. His movie has two heroes.
HBO wanted the Maris family to be consultants on the film, but the family is wrapped up in litigation with Anheuser-Busch over their beer distributorship, said Maris Jr. "We've been putting all our energy into that. We go to trial on Monday."
The family saw a rough cut and "gave it a thumbs up," said Maris Jr. "Throughout the whole movie, you are fighting back tears," he said.
Pat Maris said it was "eerie" seeing an actor portray her husband, "especially since he really did a good job."
The family has since seen it at showings in New York and Los Angeles. Pat Maris and Roger Maris Jr. saw it at the White House with President George W. Bush.
Tampa was added to the list of cities with advanced screenings because the Yankees train here every spring. The invitation-only screening Wednesday attracted 400 people, including former player Dwight Gooden.
Lots of baseball memories filled the air, including those of Jim Archer, who is now a Tarpon Springs city commissioner. In 1961, he was a pitcher with the Kansas City Athletics and threw Maris home run No. 25 on June 19, 1961.
"As a pitcher, you didn't want to take your eyes off Maris or Mantle," said Archer. "Or you'll miss something."
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