On the fiftieth anniversary of throwing the pitch Roger Maris smashed for his 61st home run of 1961, I couldn’t resist writing of Tracy Stallard. I led off by saying that if we weren’t a society that tends to think of defeat as a six-letter euphemism for mortal sin, Stallard would wear a T-shirt saying Maris had to hit a record breaker to hit him at all.
Ending a professional baseball career depends on the circumstances that provoked it. You’d like to see every player go out the way that’s most comfortable for him, but you know without being told that it won’t always work like that.
We hardly begrudged men like Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and David Ortiz taking their bows all around the circuit, as happened when each announced the forthcoming season that would be their last. We also wondered whether it made the sting of retirement easier to bear while wondering just how far into self-congratulation those men might fall.
“There’s trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line,” was the title Bill Madden gave a chapter of his 2003 book Pride of October: What It Was to be Young and a Yankee. The title alluded to what Madden heard when he first called Pepitone at his Long Island home to arrange interviews for the book. Long before he struggled to reach the former first baseman, there was trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line. And there would be again, nine years later.
In Billy Crystal’s engaging if inaccuracy-flecked 61*, which he made to re-tell the tale of the original hunt for ruthsrecord (so help me God, that’s how they decribed the single-season home run record in those years), Barry Pepper as the tortured Roger Maris finally lamented, “Couldn’t they have room for two heroes?” Meaning that he had no intention, then or ever, of trying to usurp Mickey Mantle’s place in a Yankee fan’s heart, even though he might (might) end up busting ruthsrecord when too much was said and too much undone.