OPINION: Heading back to 61, and 1961

This year, this 2022, I’m finding increasingly irritating. There are a lot of reasons, including gas prices, food prices, Roe v. Wade ... continued worry about COVID 19 ... So it was a pleasure to let Rich Lowry take me back to when I didn’t have to worry so much about everything.

I should probably observe that not-great things happen in any particular year, and that the sands through the hour glass, as they say in the soap opera, can change how you feel. Having said that, I’ll note that 2020, at least, will go down as a year nobody wants to think about again, no matter how many sands of time there are.

I was happy to head to 1961, thanks to Lowry, and his piece titled “The joy of 61.” The headline doesn’t refer to the year, but to the number of home runs hit by Roger Maris during that season of baseball.

It was embarrassing to recognize that it took a column by Lowry, who is editor of the National Review and is just about all the time not writing about baseball, to inform me that Aaron Judge is on track to challenge the 61-home run single-season record set by Maris in ’61. How can I be paying so little attention to baseball? (see sentence one).

That was a good year for me. A growing awareness of the world was including a growing awareness of baseball. There were no big-league teams other than the New York Yankees in the city that year, and sometimes I’ll include that in an explanation of why I’m a Yankees fan forever.

There was also Maris, and Mickey Mantle, and a season in which it appeared within the realm of possibility that either one of them, or both, I guess, could break the record Babe Ruth set in 1927.

Lowry brings up the famous asterisk, a misguiding insertion by baseball’s commissioner at the time, Ford Frick, to highlight that it took Maris a 162-game season to hit the 61 home runs that beat Ruth’s 60 achieved in a 154-game season.

At the time I didn’t know, and wouldn’t have cared, about such distinctions. What mattered was that Mantle and Maris could hit the ball like nobody’s business. I try to keep that in mind when I worry about kids and their heroes today, that the perspective can be a lot different but not necessarily less valid. Years ago I asked a kid at the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden who his favorite baseball player was. His answer was Alex Rodriguez. I think my tongue still hurts from having bitten it so hard.

(Lowry does not mention them by name, but there are three players (Sosa, McGuire, Bonds) who beat the Maris single season home run record, “but their gaudy totals are a testament to performance-enhancing drugs and baseball’s willingness to look the other way rather than genuine achievement,” he writes.)

For me, the record is also about the Yankees, about Ruth and Maris and now, maybe, Judge. It’s exciting to watch a player chase a record and deal with the considerable pressure that goes with it.

And here I was, not paying attention.

Thanks to the influence of a column, in this case Rich Lowry’s, I’m ready to focus. Baseball might not be the national pastime it was, but it's bound to make 2022 better.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.


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