Like Aaron Judge, Roger Maris Once Hit Leadoff For the Yankees

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Roger Maris smacks one of his 61 home runs for the 1961 Yankees.Tony Spina

By Bob Ibach and Dan Schlossberg

When Roger Maris first came to the Yankees, guess where manager Casey Stengel batted him? As the leadoff man in the Yanks lineup. Not a misprint.

It was 1960, and Maris had come to NY from the Kansas City A's. New York opened on the road, in Boston, during Ted Williams’ final season.

On Opening Day, Maris batted leadoff, followed by Bobby Richardson, Gil McDougald, Hector Lopez, Mickey Mantle, Bill Skowron, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek and starting pitcher Jim Coates.

Maris doubled in the first inning against Red Sox starter Jim Brewer, then hit his first homer as a Yankee in the fifth inning off Brewer to give the Yanks a 4-1 lead. In the sixth inning, Maris singled in Kubek for his third hit.

In the eighth inning, facing Ted Bowsfield, Maris homered again, his fourth hit of the day. BTW, Williams also hit a homer that game for Boston.

Maris again led off in Game 2 of the season before Stengel moved Richardson into the top spot and Maris was moved to cleanup behind Mantle.

Roger went on to hit 39 homers that first season, with 112 RBI and a .283 batting average. His slugging percentage was .581. Maris was rewarded with the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award, which he would win again in 1961.

History had more in store for him the following season when Maris and Mantle battled it out head-to-head on the HR leader-board until mid-September, with Maris ending up with 61 homers to surpass Babe Ruth's magical mark of 60, set in 1927.

Ironically, 61 years later, here we are during the 2022 season awaiting a guy named Aaron Judge one homer shy of 61 homers and wearing the same pinstripes as Maris.

Like Maris, he is a heavy favorite for MVP honors as well — especially if he also wins the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Judge initially wanted to wear his old schoolboy number — 9 — when he joined the Yankees in 2016. But that digit had been retired for Maris.

Judge did the next best thing, selecting a number nobody would want: double-9.

Perhaps he knew he would become twice as good as Maris? Certainly, Maris never chased a Triple Crown. In fact, his .260 lifetime batting average is the leading negative whenever his Hall of Fame candidacy is considered.

Maris batted just .269 — against expansion-diluted pitching — the year he hit 61. Judge, with the additional handicap of inter-league play and unfamiliar National League pitching, obviously did a lot better. His 6-7, 282-pound size helps; Maris was only 6-0 and 197.

Where Judge winds up next is anyone’s guess. The Yankees want to keep him but could be outbid by the crosstown Mets, who could pair him with Pete Alonso in a lethal lineup, or the San Francisco Giants, since Judge has Northern California roots.

At age 30, he should be in line for a contract long in both years and dollars [Steve Cohen might be the only guy who can afford him].

It was great baseball theater to see Roger Maris, Jr. following the Judge parade all the way from the Bronx to Toronto. And it was moving to see him seated with Judge’s parents.

In an year sabotaged at the start by a 99-day lockout that wreaked chaos with scheduling, Aaron Judge did in 2022 what Cal Ripken, Jr. did in 1995 — he proved that fans prefer to see their strikes between the white lines.

Bob Ibach is the former publications and public relations director of the Chicago Cubs. His email address is bobdunk@aol.com. Dan Schlossberg is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch and former columnist for Vine Line, edited by Ibach. His email is ballauthor@gmail.com.

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