Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, Frank Deford gets a little red in the face when it comes to the way Roger Maris's homerun record has been treated over the years. Now he says there is a new opportunity to recognize it.

FRANK DEFORD: In 1961, the American League schedule was lengthened by eight games to 162, and it was on this date that summer that the commissioner, of whom it was once written: An empty cab drove up to the curb and Ford Frick got out - declared that even if some player broke Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs, it would not count if he needed more games than Ruth had had.

So, when Roger Maris hit his 61st in the last game of the longer season, the distinction did not displace Ruth in the record books, but was merely listed along with The Babe's lesser number. This all became moot in 1998 when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd homer, there to be graciously greeted by Maris' family survivors and, of course, Sammy Sosa then three-times topped Maris and Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001.

Subsequently, McGwire admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, and the only people who don't assume the same of Bonds and Sosa also believe that Neil Armstrong's Moon landing was a hoax and that Ford Frick was a wise man.

So it was the other day that Chris Davis, first baseman of the Orioles, declared that he thought that Roger Maris held the legitimate homerun record. Now, this could be said to be self-serving of Davis inasmuch as he's hit 37 homeruns in the Orioles' first 96 games, which puts him on a pace to have a shot at topping Maris. Rather, I say good for Davis for, unlike a lot of ballplayers, having the courage to publicly dismiss the ersatz feats of the famous druggies.

But more than that, Davis is not advancing his own cause so much as he is uplifting the memory of Roger Maris, who was denied the full honors he deserves. He died young and, unlike Ford Frick, he's not even in the Hall of Fame.

I remember, as a child, going to see a stage production of "Peter Pan," and when Tinker Bell was failing, Peter asked all the children in the audience to clap if they believed in fairies. We all did and Tink survived. If Davis keeps hitting home runs, I think we should all cheer whenever he comes to the plate not necessarily to salute him, but because we are of the belief that he is going after Roger Maris' one true, legitimate record.

Should Davis incredibly keep it up and pass Maris, it would be an extraordinary achievement for him. But just as important, I think, a hitter finally fairly passing Maris after 51 long seasons would, in a strange way, certify that achievement in eclipse simply by helping us remember its majesty. Davis is not necessarily Maris's rival so much as he becomes his surrogate.

(As an announcer) Batting now, Number 19, Chris Davis.

So, you and you and you, clap if you believe in Roger Maris.

GREENE: And commentator Frank Deford steps up to the plate on our program each Wednesday.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford