Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Player Of The Month For March, 2011: Roger Maris

It's time for our second Player Of The Month. Roger Maris is a player that there's always been a ton of debate about, and in his time, he was a guy who had the weight of the world on his shoulders just for having the audacity to be a great ballplayer on Mickey Mantle's team.

"Can he break the Babe's record? Should he? Wouldn't it be better if Mickey did? Should the record have an asterisk next to it because he didn't do it in 154 games? Was he too surly? Was he the wrong type of player for New York? Was he a flash in the pan because he didn't hit 61 home runs every year? Was he a Hall of Fame player? Can anyone break his record? Did McGwire, Sosa and Bonds really break his record if they weren't clean players?" These are just a few of the questions that are and have been asked constantly about Roger Maris.

As for folks' impressions of him, you've got people like Billy Crystal, who pretty much wrote a love letter to Roger when he made the movie 61*, you've got people like Jim Bouton, who didn't seem to get along with him all that well during his time with the Yankees and wasn't shy about mentioning it in his book, and you've got everything in between.

For my part, I wasn't really around and paying attention while Roger was alive. The first time I'd ever heard of him was when news of his death broke in 1985. I've only ever seen one actual game that he played (Game 7 of the 1960 World Series), which just aired in December of this past year, and it wasn't one of his better games, going 0-4 and making a fielding error (for what it's worth, Roberto Clemente also had a pretty weak game that day, and that's the only time I've ever seen him play a full game as well). There's something about the guy, though. People talk about "mystique" all the time, but not a lot of people actually have it. Ever since the first time I saw this card...

...I've been completely caught up in the mystique of Roger Maris. It may have my vote for best card of all time. The composition of the shot is fantastic, the expression on Roger's face is the epitome of "tragic hero" with a hint of "matinee idol", and while a lot of folks aren't big on the '61 Topps design, it's one of my favorites. I think of this card the way a lot of folks think of the '52 Mantle: almost definitely the best card Topps ever produced.

I initially saw the card as featured on an '86 Topps "Turn Back The Clock" card (this was the "25 years ago" card; now, '86 Topps itself is 25 years old), and it instantly became one of my Holy Grails of collecting, if not the Holy Grail before I picked up this well-loved but clean card a couple of Christmases ago. Because it's slabbed and was when I got it, ironically, I'll never touch it even though I own it, but there's something strangely appropriate about that. Besides, if I have an urge to feel exactly what '61 Topps cardboard feels like, I have a few other options.

Speaking of those other options, I'm going to take a slight departure from our still-gestating format here and show you another '61 Topps card. Don't worry, it's totally within the context of a piece on Roger Maris.

Tracy Stallard, if you're not familiar, is the pitcher who surrendered home run #61 to Roger Maris. I was looking through a box of cards at the flea market about a year ago, when I found this card for a buck. I was pretty psyched, as I already had the '61 Maris by that point and even though I felt a little bad for holding out on Ben Henry, who may still need this card for his all-time Red Sox collection, I thought it'd compliment the Maris nicely (plus, we are talking about a '61 Topps card that I landed for a dollar here). Sure enough, when I put it in a screwdown and loaded it into my wall case, it looked terrific to the left of Roger's card. It was like a 50 year long staredown, just frozen in time. Tracy's taken up residence in one of my card boxes, at least for now (I rotate a lot of the cards I keep in the case; Roger always stays, though), but that was a great few months of watching these two try to intimidate each other. I watched part of "For A Few Dollars More" a couple of weekends ago, and these two cards, when placed together, kind of remind me of all of the intimidating glares Sergio Leone captured in the film. (I really need to kill a weekend watching the Man With No Name trilogy in its entirety sometime soon.)

the '61 Maris isn't my only playing-era card of his, nor was it my first. Many years ago, I got this '67 Topps card of him for Christmas. I kinda wished at the time that it wasn't a card listing him as a Cardinal, but there was no way I could pass up a "real" Roger Maris card (it was the late '80s, back when nothing but playing era cards of a player "counted" to a kid, despite a ton of collector/art card issues being out there) no matter who he was listed as playing for! (Of course, grown-up me knows that they didn't even bother to airbrush out his Yankee uniform here, because they got him at the perfect angle.) The contrast in the two photos, '61 and '67, is pretty striking. Roger looks like he's aged about 15 years in 6 (if the '67 photo was even taken as late as '66) and whereas in '61 he merely looks tragic, in '67, he looked beaten. This wasn't the case, actually, as he had a great time with the Cardinals and won a World Series with them in the home stretch of his career.

I love this shot, which I've posted before while writing about the legends short prints from '09 Topps Update. He looks like he's heading home here, metaphorically speaking as well as literally. I hope he was happy when he got there.

 I've posted a few of the other cards I have of Roger Maris (which there aren't a lot of, but I'm getting there) somewhat recently, so I won't inundate you guys with stuff you've already seen in the past month. It's all at the Roger Maris tag link. Well worth looking at those, as I don't think I've seen many bad Roger Maris cards.

Just as I did last month with Bernie Williams, I'm extending the following offer: for all of March, if you think of trading with me, think first and foremost about trading your spare Roger Maris cards to me. While trading can be an inexact science so your mileage may vary just as mine may, I will consider all Roger Maris cards (old, new, whatever) to be worth double of what I would any other stuff I'd get in trades this month. I'll be making this offer for each Player Of The Month, even if my first test run didn't yield much in the way of results and even if getting Roger Maris cards in trade is kind of a longshot. My Roger Maris have list is directly below his '10 Topps Heritage card.

Roger Maris (10): 61 Topps, 67 Topps, 10 Topps Heritage 61b, 11 Topps 60 Years Of Topps, 10 Topps Triple Threads 1137/1350, 86 Topps Turn Back The Clock, 09 Topps Updates And Highlights, 03 Fleer Flair Greats, 78 TCMA The ‘60s, 08 Upper Deck Yankee Stadium Legacy Game 3410

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