Roger Maris, who held the major league record for the most home runs in a single season, died yesterday at M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston after a two-year bout with cancer, hospital officials said. He was 51 years old.
During the early 1960's when the New York Yankees reigned for five straight pennant-winning seasons, Roger Maris was all things to all people. But baseball history will remember him as the home-run twin to Mickey Mantle, and generations of fans will remember him as the man with the asterisk in the record books: * Hit 61 home runs in 1961 in a 162-game season.
It was inserted into the record books by Ford C. Frick, the commissioner of baseball, who apparently reflected the traditionalist view of many fans that the Olympian feats of Babe Ruth must be defended against long seasons, short fences and newly arrived sluggers -even one who eventually played in seven World Series and hit 275 home runs in 12 seasons in the big leagues.
Set Mark on Final Day
But, on Oct. 1. 1961, asterisk or no asterisk, Roger Maris made history when he hit his 61st home run of the season in his 161st game on the final day of the 162-game season in Yankee Stadium against Tracy Stallardof the Boston Red Sox.
It was the rousing end to a rousing season, and it ended with the Yankees winning the pennant race before roaring sellout crowds and swarms of writers and broadcasters drawn by Mantle and Maris, the power hitters on yet another great Yankee team. Mantle, who was injured in September, still managed to hit 54 home runs, so the ''twins'' combined for an awesome total of 115. But Maris, an accomplished outfielder with a powerful arm and bat, was besieged as he pursued the memory and the record of Ruth.
And yet, Maris was not universally embraced for his achievement. The Yankees received 3,000 messages a day during the final weeks of the season, many of them cheering him on. But the commissioner, a onetime colleague of Babe Ruth, announced that any record would have to be set in 154 games. And Rogers Hornsby, the Hall of Fame slugger, who also had been a contemporary of Ruth, said in the passion of the day:
Maris had no ''right'' to break Ruth's record ostensibly because he was none of the things that had made Babe Ruth renowned as the Bambino. He was imported to the Yankees from the Kansas City Athletics, a stocky figure with a blond crewcut, and he was playing only his second season in the celebrated pinstripes. He was considered an upstart in the House That Ruth Built, and the house that Mantle dominated. He was dour, aloof, sometimes arch, and in no way the flamboyant bear portrayed by Babe Ruth.
''I was born surly,'' Maris acknowledged in 1961 when the home-run race had ended, ''and I'm going to stay that way. Everything in life is tough.
''Even the Yankee clubhouse attendants think I'm tough to live with. I guess they're right. I'm miffed most of the time, regardless of how I'm doing. But, regardless of my faults, I'll never take abuse from anybody - big or small, important or unimportant - if I think it's undeserved.''
Star Athlete in School
He was an outstanding athlete at Shanley High School, a star in basketball and track and an all-state halfback in football. The school had no baseball team, but he played American Legion ball and became a star there, too.
When he graduated from high school, the University of Oklahoma offered Maris a football scholarship, but a scout for the Cleveland Indians persuaded him to try for a baseball career. He offered a $5,000 bonus and $10,000 more if Maris made the big leagues, and Maris signed.
It didn't take him long to redeem the full bonus. He broke into professional ball in 1954 in Keokuk, advanced in 1955 to Reading, then in 1956 to Indianapolis in the American Association, one notch below the majors. One year later, in 1957, he was playing outfield for the Indians.
Traded to the Yankees
But on June 15, 1958, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics with Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward forVic Power and Woodie Held. And a year and a half later, on Dec. 11, 1959, with some recognition as a blooming power hitter, he was traded to New York with Joe DeMaestri and Kent Hadley for Don Larsen, Hank Bauer, Norm Siebern and Marv Throneberry. He was 25 years old and a Yankee.
It didn't take Maris long to ''join the club.'' In his debut in 1960, he hit a single, double and two home runs. He finished the season with 39 home runs, and the Yankees won the American League pennant and began a streak of five straight pennants.
In 1961, the season that made him both famous and controversial, he posted these numbers: 161 games, 590 times at bat, 159 hits, 94 walks, 67 strikeouts, 132 runs scored, 142 runs batted in, a batting average of .269 -and 61 home runs.
But, if 1961 was a difficult time for Maris, he soon found that 1962 was an ordeal. He was engulfed wherever he went, cheerleaders asking if he could hit more than 61 home runs, critics asking why not. He hit 33.
Yankees' Era Ends
After 1964, the Yankees stopped winning pennants after an extraordinary run of 14 in 16 years. Maris, meanwhile, endured several seasons of injuries to his back, hand and legs, and said later that he was outraged by intimations that he had been exaggerating his ailments. On Dec. 8, 1966, he was traded to theSt. Louis Cardinals, where he again distinguished himself as a professional with a strong right-handed throwing arm from right field and a strong left-handed swing at the plate.
He played in the World Series of 1967 ,and 1968 for the Cardinals, and then retired at the close of the 1968 season. His career line, with no asterisk, read: 12 years in the big leagues, 1,463 games, 5,101 times at bat, 1,325 hits, 275 home runs, 826 runs, 851 runs batted in and an average of .260. In seven World Series, he hit six home runs.
For many years, Maris lived in Independence, Mo., with his wife, the former Patricia Carvell, and their seven children. After retiring from baseball, he lived in Gainesville, Fla., where he owned a beer distributorship.
For a while, he shunned old-timers' games, because he resented the criticism and controversy from his playing days. But he began to appear at reunions later, and he remained close friends with Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek and his other teammates from the time when the Yankees ruled the day.
Funeral services will be held at noon Thursday at St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo, N.D.