When Mickey Charles Mantle , the New York Yankees' man of muscle , drives a home run 450 feet into the bleachers , his feat touches upon the sublime .
When Roger Eugene Maris , Mantle's muscular teammate , powers four home runs in a double-header , his performance merits awe .
But when tiny , 145-pound Albert Gregory Pearson of the Los Angeles Angels , who once caught three straight fly balls in center field because , as a teammate explained , `` the other team thought no one was out there '' , hits seven home runs in four months ( three more than his total in 1958 , 1959 , and 1960 ) , his achievement borders on the ridiculous .
This is Baseball 1961 .
This is the year home runs ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous .
It is the year when ( 1 ) amiable Jim Gentile of the Baltimore Orioles ambled to the plate in consecutive innings with the bases loaded and , in unprecedented style , delivered consecutive grand-slam home runs ; ;
( 2 ) Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants borrowed a teammate's bat and became the ninth big leaguer to stroke four home runs in a game ; ;
( 3 ) the Milwaukee Braves tied a major-league record with fourteen home runs in three games and lost two of them ; ;
and ( 4 ) catcher Johnny Blanchard of the New York Yankees matched a record with home runs in four successive times at bat , two of them as a pinch-hitter .
Pitchers grumble about lively balls and lively bats , the shrinking strike zone , and the fact that the knock-down pitch is now illegal .
Experts point to the thinning of pitching talent in the American League caused by expansion .
Whatever the reasons , not in 30 years has a single season produced such thunderous assaults upon the bureau of baseball records , home-run division .
Of all the records in peril , one stands apart , dramatic in its making , dramatic in its endurance , and now , doubly dramatic in its jeopardy .
This , of course , is baseball's most remarkable mark : The 60 home runs hit in 1927 by the incorrigible epicure , the incredible athlete , George Herman ( Babe ) Ruth of the Yankees .
Since 1927 , fewer than a dozen men have made serious runs at Babe Ruth's record and each , in turn , has been thwarted .
What ultimately frustrated every challenger was Ruth's amazing September surge .
In the final month of the 1927 season , he hit seventeen home runs , a closing spurt never matched .
Double threat :
Always , in the abortive attacks upon Ruth's record , one man alone -- a Jimmy Foxx ( 58 in 1932 ) or a Hank Greenberg ( 58 in 1938 ) or a Hack Wilson ( 56 in 1930 ) -- made the bid .
But now , for the first time since Lou Gehrig ( with 47 home runs ) spurred Ruth on in 1927 , two men playing for the same team have zeroed in on 60 .
Their names are Mantle and Maris , their team is the Yankees , and their threat is real .
After 108 games in 1927 , Ruth had 35 home runs .
After 108 games in 1961 , Mickey Mantle has 43 , Roger Maris 41 .
Extend Mantle's and Maris's present paces over the full 1961 schedule of 162 games , and , mathematically , each will hit more than 60 home runs .
This is the great edge the two Yankees have going for them .
To better Ruth's mark , neither needs a spectacular September flourish .
All Mantle needs is eight more home runs in August and ten in September , and he will establish a new record .
In Ruth's day -- and until this year -- the schedule was 154 games .
Baseball commissioner Ford Frick has ruled that Ruth's record will remain official unless it is broken in 154 games .
`` Even on the basis of 154 games , this is the ideal situation '' , insists Hank Greenberg , now vice-president of the Chicago White Sox .
`` It has to be easier with two of them .
How can you walk Maris to get to Mantle '' ? ?
Neither Mantle nor Maris , understandably , will predict 60 home runs for himself .
Although both concede they would like to hit 60 , they stick primarily to the baseball player's standard quote : `` The important thing is to win the pennant '' .
But one thing is for certain : There is no dissension between Mantle , the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1956 and 1957 , and Maris , the MVP in 1960 .
Each enjoys seeing the other hit home runs ( `` I hope Roger hits 80 '' , Mantle says ) , and each enjoys even more seeing himself hit home runs ( `` and I hope I hit 81 '' ) .
The sluggers get along so well in fact , that with their families at home for the summer ( Mantle's in Dallas , Maris's in Kansas City ) , they are rooming together .
Mantle , Maris , and Bob Cerv , a utility outfielder , share an apartment in Jamaica , Long Island , not far from New York International Airport .
The three pay $251 a month for four rooms ( kitchen , dining room , living room , and bedroom ) , with air-conditioning and new modern furniture .
Mantle and Cerv use the twin beds in the bedroom ; ;
Maris sleeps on a green studio couch in the living room .
They divide up the household chores : Cerv does most of the cooking ( breakfast and sandwich snacks , with dinner out ) , Mantle supplies the transportation ( a white 1961 Oldsmobile convertible ) , and Maris drives the 25-minute course from the apartment house to Yankee Stadium .
Mantle , Maris , and Cerv probably share one major-league record already : Among them , they have fifteen children -- eight for Cerv , four for Mantle , and three for Maris .
As roommates , teammates , and home-run mates , Mantle , 29 , who broke in with the Yankees ten years ago , and Maris , 26 , who came to the Yankees from Kansas City two years ago , have strikingly similar backgrounds .
Both were scholastic stars in football , basketball , and baseball ( Mantle in Commerce , Okla. , Maris in Fargo , N.D. ) ; ;
as halfbacks , both came close to playing football at the University of Oklahoma ( `` Sometimes in the minors '' , Maris recalls , `` I wished I had gone to Oklahoma '' ) .
To an extent , the two even look alike .
Both have blue eyes and short blond hair .
Both are 6 feet tall and weigh between 195 and 200 pounds , but Mantle , incredibly muscular ( he has a 17-1/2-inch neck ) , looks bigger .
With their huge backs and overdeveloped shoulders , both must have their clothes made to order .
Maris purchases $100 suits from Simpson's in New York .
Mantle , more concerned with dress , buys his suits four at a time at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas and pays as much as $250 each .
Light reading :
Neither Mantle nor Maris need fear being classified an intellectual , but lately Mantle has shown unusual devotion to an intellectual opus , Henry Miller's `` Tropic of Cancer '' .
Mantle so appreciated Miller's delicate literary style that he broadened teammates' minds by reading sensitive passages aloud during road trips .
Mantle is not normally given to public speaking -- or , for that matter , to private speaking .
`` What do you and Mickey talk about at home '' ? ?
A reporter asked Maris recently .
`` To tell you the truth '' , Maris said , `` Mickey don't talk much '' .
This is no surprising trait for a ballplayer .
What is surprising and pleasant is that Mantle and Maris , under constant pressure from writers and photographers , are trying to be cooperative .
Of the two , Mantle is by nature the less outgoing , Maris the more outspoken .
But last week , when a reporter was standing near Mantle's locker , Mickey walked up and volunteered an anecdote .
`` See that kid '' ? ?
He said , pointing to a dark-haired 11-year-old boy .
`` That's ( Yogi ) Berra's .
I'll never forget one time I struck out three times , dropped a fly ball , and we lost the game .
I came back , sitting by my locker , feeling real low , and the kid walks over to me , looks up , and says : ' You stunk ' '' .
Maris , in talking to reporters , tries to answer all questions candidly and fully , but on rare occasions , he shuns newsmen .
`` When I've made a dumb play '' , he says , `` I don't want to talk to anyone .
I'm angry '' .
By his own confession , Maris is an angry young man .
Benched at Tulsa in 1955 , he told manager Dutch Meyer : `` I can't play for you .
Send me where I can play '' .
( Meyer sent him to Reading , Pa. .
) Benched at Indianapolis in 1956 , he told manager Kerby Farrell : `` I'm not learning anything on the bench .
Play me '' .
( Farrell did -- and Maris led the team to victory in the Little World Series .
) `` That's the way I am '' , he says .
`` I tell people what I think .
If you're a good ballplayer , you've got to get mad .
Give me a team of nine angry men and I'll give you a team of nine gentlemen and we'll beat you nine out of ten times '' .
Idols' idols :
One good indication of the two men's personalities is the way they reacted to meeting their own heroes .
Maris's was Ted Williams .
`` When I was a kid '' , Maris told a sportswriter last week , `` I used to follow Williams every day in the box score , just to see whether he got a hit or not '' .
`` When you came up to the majors , did you seek out Williams for advice '' ? ?
`` Are you kidding '' ? ?
Said Maris .
`` You're afraid to talk to a guy you idolize '' .
Mantle's hero was Joe DiMaggio .
`` When Mickey went to the Yankees '' , says Mark Freeman , an ex-Yankee pitcher who sells mutual funds in Denver , `` DiMaggio still was playing and every day Mickey would go by his locker , just aching for some word of encouragement from this great man , this hero of his .
But DiMaggio never said a word .
It crushed Mickey .
He told me he vowed right then that if he ever got to be a star , this never would be said of him '' .
Mantle has kept the vow .
Among all the Yankees , he is the veteran most friendly to rookies .
Neither Mantle nor Maris is totally devoted to baseball above all else .
If laying ties on a railroad track , which he once did for $1 an hour , paid more than playing right field for the Yankees , Maris would lay ties on a railroad track .
If working in a zinc mine , which he once did for 87-1/2 cents an hour , paid more than playing center field for the Yankees , Mantle would work in a zinc mine .
But since railroading and mining are not the highest paid arts , Mantle and Maris concentrate on baseball .
They try to play baseball the best they can .
Each is a complete ballplayer .
Mantle , beyond any question , can do more things well .
( `` One of the reasons they get along fine '' , says a sportswriter who is friendly with the two men , `` is that both realize Mantle is head-and-shoulders above Maris '' .
) Hitting , Mantle has an immediate advantage because he bats both left-handed and right-handed , Maris only left-handed .
They both possess near classic stances , dug in firmly , arms high , set for fierce swings .
Mantle is considerably better hitting for average (
, fourth in the league , to
for Maris so far this year ) .
Both are good bunters : Maris once beat out eighteen of nineteen in the minor leagues ; ;
Mantle is a master at dragging a bunt toward first base .
Both have brilliant speed : Mantle was timed from home plate ( batting left-handed ) to first base in 3.1 seconds , faster than any other major leaguer ; ;
Maris ran the 100-yard dash in ten seconds in high school and once won a race against Luis Aparicio , the swift , base-stealing shortstop of the White Sox .
Both are good , daring fielders : Mantle covers more ground ; ;
Maris's throwing arm is stronger .
Yet with all their skills , the appeal of Mantle and Maris in 1961 comes down to one basic : The home run .
With this ultimate weapon , the two Yankees may have saved baseball from its dullest season .
( American League expansion created , inevitably , weaker teams .
Only two teams in each league ( the Yankees and Detroit , the Dodgers and Cincinnati ) are battling for first place .
Appropriately , the emphasis on the home run , at a peak this year , came into being at baseball's lowest moment .
In 1920 , as the startling news that the 1919 White Sox had conspired to lose the World Series leaked out , fans grew disillusioned and disinterested in baseball .
Something was needed to revive interest ; ;
the something was the home run .