Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Roger Maris

Claim to fame: This October will mark the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris’s 61st home run in the 1961 season. It broke Babe Ruth’s 34-year single season record and stood another 37 years until Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, and it remains the defining achievement for Maris. He was a back-to-back MVP, four-time All Star, and one can only wonder what he might have accomplished had he not had just one healthy season after the age of 27. Still, 61 is the number people remember about Maris, and if he’s ever elected to the Hall of Fame, I doubt it will be for any other reason.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Maris went the full 15 years on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America, and while his vote totals peaked slightly after his death from cancer in 1985, he never received anywhere close to the 75 percent of votes needed for enshrinement. That leaves the Veterans Committee as Maris’s sole option for earning a plaque today.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? There are lots of directions I could probably go with this one. I’ll start with a quote I’ve used before here. In 1978, late, great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote a column arguing that Dodger stolen base great Maury Wills belonged in the Hall of Fame. Toward the end of the piece, Murray wrote:

The baseball writers are sometimes loathe to reward a guy for a single, incandescent, virtuoso performance over one season. They prefer a guy who keeps doing a predictable thing over and over again. Henry Aaron, who piled up 755 home runs, 30 to 40 at a time over 20 years, will go in the hall by acclamation. Roger Maris, who hit 61 one season, more than anyone ever hit in one season, will never make it.

I like Murray, though it’s hard to believe Maris will never make the Hall of Fame. I don’t know if there are many absolutes in life, particularly when it comes to the Veterans Committee. Players with solid lifetime stats but relatively low profiles are sometimes overlooked by the committee in favor of big names from great teams. That could favor Maris, who did his best work in Yankee pinstripes and remains beloved more than a decade since his record fell. He’s another player whose induction could offer good PR for the Hall of Fame as more and more steroid users become eligible with the writers.

The question is whether that’s enough, because I don’t know what else could get Maris enshrined. By no lifetime statistical measure does he appear worthy of Cooperstown, not through any of the Hall of Fame monitoring metrics on Baseball-Reference.com nor any traditional stat. His 275 home runs ranks far down the charts, as does his 39.8 career WAR, and .260 batting average. He never hit .300 in a season, retired with just 1,325 hits, and had barely more than 5,000 at bats. The list goes on. If not for the 61 home runs, I suppose Maris might be largely forgotten today.

But Maris isn’t a sentinel in baseball history, and here’s what I think the argument could come down to. There are roughly 300 people in the Hall of Fame, the majority obscure to modern fans. To most who pass through Cooperstown, names on plaques like Vic Willis and Tim Keefe and Buck Ewing are essentially meaningless. Maris is a name many if not most fans know and care about. If we isolate the word Fame in Hall of Fame, there may be no more deserving, eligible player than Roger Maris.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Bobby Grich, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark

0 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Roger Maris”

  1. I could understand him being enshrined. But, my vote is “no”. His peak was too short & he didn’t stay around long enough for the career value.

    Also, based on BBR’s WAR, he shouldn’t have even won the ’61 MVP. If you look at the #’s, it would seem that he won (over Mantle) based on his HR/RBI totals.

    “Maris went the full 15 years on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America…”

    How many players lasted the full 15 years?

  2. “If we isolate the word Fame in Hall of Fame, there may be no more deserving, eligible player than Roger Maris.”

    Interesting, Graham, and I’ve read the argument elsewhere that the HOF is for the “FAMOUS”, and that should be among the first criteria for membership.

    In the early 60’s Bo Belinsky was pretty famous, too.

    I would suggest that taking something literally is not always the best way to look at things.

    A example is the MVP award. I cannot believe that when it was established, it was intended to be anything except the award to the best player. Somehow, in the last 20 years, there has been an unfortunate parsing and analysis of the words “Most Valuable Player”. Instead of choosing the best player, some claim it must be the “most valuable player to his team”, which is quite a different thing. Some claim that the MVP has to come from a division-winner, or at least a team with a winning record, so that a player from a poor team is of reduced “value”.

    How about just choosing the best player, who is therefore (and must be) the most valuable?

  3. Just for his Yankee years and his days with some very good Cardinal teams, I think the Vet’s group needs to put him in. I saw Maris play a few times and can tell you he was a good defensive player and everyone that ever played with him will tell you he was the best team-mate ever.

  4. For years I have told myself (and others) that Maris probably doesn’t belong in The Hall. But lately, given the steroid scandal and what it has done to the image of both the game and individual players, I have decided that we need to stop viewing Hall entry as a mathematical equation, i.e., is Player A’s OPS+ impressive enough. Steroids have made what used to be objective analysis based on numbers essentially useless.
    Therefore, as Graham suggests, why not view the HOF as a place where, God forbid, famous players are enshrined, even if their fame was fleeting? It is, after all, a museum, an attraction for visitors, not a damned math conference.
    Nice article, Graham.
    Regards, Bill

  5. Maris deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Whitey Herzog said he “is probably the best ballplayer ever to play the game that isn’t in the Hall of Fame.” Hank Aaron said of Maris, “I thought he was one of the best outfielders I have seen and he was a very good clutch hitter. Consider this: Maris played only 12 years. During that career he was voted MVP in the American League twice. He was selected to four All-Star games. He won a Gold Glove Award for his defensive skills. His slugging percentage easily exceeds Hall standards. His is higher than Dave Winfield, Carl Yastremski, and Wade Boggs to name just a few. Some people talk about Maris’s .260 lifetime batting average as if there aren’t any other great Hall of Famers whose BA was well below .300. Brooks Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio all batted .262 and they made it to Cooperstown. We recently marked the passing of another great Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew. His career batting average was .256. And any way you look at it, Maris to this day holds the single season home run record in the American League. Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all played in the National League. The Veterans Committee should do the right thing later this year and vote to put Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame where he deserves to be.

  6. I still feel Roger Maris has made enough of an impact on the sport of Baseball to warrant a full position in the Hall of Fame. I think his contributions to the history of the game go well beyond many others who are enshrined. There are people in the Hall who are recognized for their contributions yet never played the game. He is forever linked to the game in books, movies, tv, politically and even in the history of the Hall itself.

  7. Gee, what does the Hall of Fame say about what it takes to be in the Hall of Fame?

    Roger Maris isn’t even CLOSE to being a Hall of Famer. (Years missed because of health reasons are completely irrelevant.)

    Gee, 61 sounds like a lot. (FWIW, he was 5th in WAR in 1961.) Until you actually look at the environment. Oh, a FOUR time All Star!!!! Impressive. A .260 lifetime average? Kind of like Harmon Killebrew, minus close to 300 home runs.

    Oh, that environment thing; 1960 was probably a (much) better season for Rog than 1961.

  8. Even before reading the last line of this article, I’ve long felt that to be in the Hall of Fame, you ought to be famous. Never mind the all-star and MVP seasons, for nearly two full generations Maris held the only sports record that nearly every American male (and maybe most women) could name BOTH the record and its holder. And don’t forget that in ’61 the M&M Boys had the entire country riveted to its sports pages for three full months. I can’t take take the MLB Hall of Fame seriously until Roger Maris is in it.

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