What are we doing in Fargo?
November in Fargo is not exactly April in Paris.
Other than the denizens of even chillier outposts like Thief River Falls and Grand Forks, who probably drive down to warm up a bit, I can’t imagine anyone would come this way on purpose anytime after the first snow.
Actually, my son and his family live across the Red River in Moorhead, Minnesota, but Fargo is more fun to say, especially for those who fondly remember a certain quirky movie that featured multiple murders, thick upper midwest accents and an allegorical wood chipper.
So, what are we doing in Fargo?
The stated purpose was a quick visit and some grandkid-watching while our son and daughter-in-law made their escape via a quick work-and-fun trip to the west coast.
But, the first order of business was getting there, which is not always a small task when the winds turn cold and winter weather sweeps across the plains. Forecasts, in fact, were for up to ten inches of new, cold, white stuff right along our usual travel path through northern Iowa and central Minnesota. We countered with a headlong dash straight west in an effort to curl under the storm and head north behind it.
Amazingly, it worked. We made it, though it took a couple hours longer than usual. But after seeing the big, bad blizzard that hit our regular route, we realized the long way was the best way this time.
But what are we doing in Fargo?
One of us was planning a trip to the local Fargo Mall.
“Do you want to come?” she asked.
I was thinking about sharp blows to the kidneys, sinus infections, root canal work and all the other things I’d choose over a mall visit when someone added,
“They’ve got that baseball thing.”
Baseball thing? Did someone say baseball thing?
The thing in question is none other than a museum dedicated to local boy, home run king and hero of my youth Roger Maris, who stunned the baseball world--and himself, I think--by hitting 61 home runs in 1961, breaking a record set by Babe Ruth over 30 years before. The museum is located in a shopping mall because that’s how Roger Maris wanted it.
“Put it where people will see it, and where they won’t have to pay for it,” he said.
Yes, it’s free, though I would have happily paid a couple of bucks to see the uniforms, pictures and other memorabilia, and watch the short documentary that ran continuously.
I remember that 1961 season well. I was a Yankee fan myself, partially because, with just a couple of televised games per week, they were pretty apt to be in the regular rotation simply because they were so darn good. That’s the other reason I liked them, as I had not yet developed the sad, silly persona of a Cubs fan and still thought winning was the point of playing the games.
They call Maris a “reluctant hero,” not because of any lack of drive or determination, but because he would have been happier almost anywhere but in the spotlight. He was an uncommon kind of superstar even then, though the differences would be almost incomprehensible among the inflated egos of today’s ballplayers.
“Nowadays, guys take curtain calls for sacrifice flies in July,” said writer Bob Costas of Maris’ hesitant, almost blushing wave to the cheering New York faithful after he blasted number 61.
He was quiet and shy; a family man with six kids. He never really felt accepted by the New York fans and members of the media. That 1961 season was marred by incredible pressure fueled by hate mail and death threats from misguided nutjobs who either didn’t want the Babe’s record broken or wanted someone else to do it.
But Maris did break the record, with grace and class, and with the full support of his teammates, including Mickey Mantle, who battled him for the home run lead up until the last few weeks of the season.
But he never received the credit he deserved. And he still hasn’t. Despite a pair of Most Valuable Player Awards, all-star and golden glove seasons and that incredible 61-home run year, Maris has never been named to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"He had a stellar career," said Maris’ son Kevin. "He did things in the game that no one has ever done. It would be nice to see baseball right a wrong that has been going on now almost 50 years. I think a lot of fans assume he's already in there, and when we tell him he's not, they're in awe, in shock. It would be nice to see baseball right an injustice."
Roger Maris died of cancer in December of 1985. He was just 51 years old.
“He was as good a man and as good a ballplayer as there was,” said Mantle.