Dakota Datebook

Maris Trade

by Merry Helm
December 14, 2018 — Baseball fans had mixed emotions at this time in 1966. Five days earlier, the Yankees traded home-run king Roger Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals in an even swap for infielder Charlie Smith. As one subway rider in New York put it, “You mean to say all MacPhail could get for Maris was Charley Smith?”
“Don’t knock MacPhail,” said his companion. “He’s the same guy who got [Jackie] Robinson from Cincinnati.”
It was long known Maris was unhappy with the Yankees. The pressure of competing alongside the enormously popular Mickey Mantle – and then the unexpected public backlash when Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record – was a heavy burden for the Fargo legend.
Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail explained his decision to let Maris go was based on building a younger team. Of Maris, he told one reporter, “We wish him nothing but the best.”
Meanwhile, the Cardinals welcomed Maris with open arms. He is the man who “will give us extra power,” said general manager Bob Howsam. “…a fine hitter and good outfielder.”
Field general Red Schoendiest said, “As you know, we’ve been lacking runs for the last couple years while we were more or less building, and I think Maris just may be the man we can slip in there to help us.” Maris definitely proved him right. In the very next season, the Cardinals went up against the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series.
When Maris came to New York before the games began, reporter Hilton Richman suggested to him another world series must be pretty blah, since Maris had already participated in five before.
“Wrong,” Maris replied. “Dead wrong. It’s one helluva thrill, and I mean a big thrill. No matter how many you play in, it always excites you. The fact this will be my first with a National League club means something, too. I’ve been very happy all year. There wasn’t a minute of it I didn’t enjoy.”
Richman wrote, “Was that Roger talking? The same Roger Maris who was so unhappy with the Yankees? Yes it was. And he offered a clincher, also.”
“I missed only one game all year because of an injury,” Maris said.
Richman wrote, “That didn’t sound at all like the same Roger Maris, who is forever getting hurt, but it was him. No mistake about it.”
“I missed that one game earlier in the year because I busted a toe on my left foot,” said Maris. “I couldn’t even get my shoe on my foot.”

Richman wrote, “With the time for the World Series growing closer, Maris frequently is asked to compare this Cardinal ball club with some of the Yankee pennant winners he played on. Generally, those who do the questioning are looking for Maris to rap the Yankees. But he doesn’t.”

“There’s really not much difference playing with them and with this club,” Maris said. “This club is loose, and it’s a lotta fun being with it. I’ve been with Yankee clubs that were exactly the same way.”

“It is wrong to think Roger Maris loathes everything associated with the Yankees,” Richman wrote. “It is wrong to think that way, because it isn’t true. When he came into [New York] Wednesday, the first thing he did was arrange a dinner date with one of his best friends. That friend happens to be an ex-Yankee, Hal Reniff. Reniff pitches for the Mets and now is one of Maris’ rivals. Some people might say that’s fraternizing… [but] Roger Maris doesn’t care what people say. In that respect, he hasn’t changed a bit.”

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

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