Billboards Tout Maris’ 61 in '61
Newman Outdoor Advertising North Dakota has erected two billboards in Fargo that honor home-state hero Roger Maris, who hit 61 home runs in 1961. Even though Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record, he accomplished it in more games. Thus, the baseball Hall of Fame doesn’t recognize his record. Maris’ record was eclipsed by Mark McGwire, who hit 70 home runs in 1998, and Barry Bonds, who hit 73 in 2001.
North Dakota isn’t forgetting Fargo’s golden boy’s "61 in '61" (his epitaph in a Fargo cemetery). Newman Outdoor’s Ali Mesrour designed the 14 x 48-ft. billboards that depict Maris as a New York Yankee and the slogan “Fargo’s Maris ‘Legitimate’ Home Run King.”
Russ Newman, Newman’s owner and son of the firm’s founder, Harold, hopes the message will help spur the Hall of Fame to rectify Maris’ oversight.
In later years (Maris died in 1985), the rightfielder revealed the home-run derby with Mantle and the resulting media blitz caused him to lose much of his hair at the time. The pressure drove the normally quiet and gentlemanly Maris to retreat from publicity and contributed to his being perceived as surly.
Baseball had been a sideline for Maris, who excelled at football at Fargo’s Shanley High School. Having been recruited to play football at the University of Oklahoma, he arrived by bus in Norman, but nobody from the university was there to greet him. He turned around and went back to Fargo.
Soon, however, his prowess on the diamond earned him a minor-league, Fargo-Moorhead Chicks uniform with the Cleveland organization. In a few years after having quickly ascended the minor-league ranks, he played for the Indians, (Kansas City) Athletics, then the Yankees.
"He's our boy -- Fargo's golden boy," said Russ Newman, who knew Maris in the early 1980s. "He was such a gentleman."