As told by Bob Cerv, Outfielder; 1961 New York Yankees. As a teammate, and more importantly, a good friend of Roger Maris, I often am exposed to sides of Roger that are not usually documented by the press and news reporters. Although Roger gets more publicity these days than maybe the President [John Kennedy], it always seems as if he is getting hounded by questions he either doesn’t want to answer, or doesn’t know how to answer.
Roger got off to a very slow start in April, especially on the heels of his MVP 1960 season, his first in New York. Now it’s July and Roger has gone from well liked MVP to one of the most misunderstood people I have ever known, while Mickey [Mantle] has become the superstar of superstars after years of scrutiny from Yankee fans.
We [the Yankees] had a three game set in Kansas City this past weekend, and it was the first visit home for Roger all season. With the press all over Roger, and him being on a torrid homerun pace, he could not wait to go home.
After the long bus ride from New York to Kansas City, Roger decided for me that I would be his guest for the weekend at home. So we both hopped into a taxi and headed for Roger’s house on a beautiful summer day.
During the ride from the bus stop to Roger’s house, it was very evident that Roger was glad to be away from New York, and for good reason. As his eyes wandered from side to side at the Kansas City landmarks, Roger would periodically mention memories from home with his wife and kids. As we made the final turn before reaching Roger’s house, anyone would have been able to see the excitement in his face, the eagerness to jump out of the car and see his family. That mood quickly changed, however.
When Roger and I came closer to his house, a mob of reporters were on his lawn and doorstep just waiting, waiting to make Roger’s life hell. His face immediately became stone cold, a sign that he didn’t want to talk and he was upset. As the taxi driver pulled over, Roger slipped him some money and tried to open his door cautiously without hitting the hundreds of reporters flocking to the taxicab.
Roger waited anxiously for me to make my way through the crowd towards him, and it was obvious he was flustered, as he plowed his way through the crowd to his front door. While we walked he kept asking the reporters how they got his address and by the time we got to the front door, he dropped his suitcase, looked at the reporters and said, “Folks, this is my home, leave me alone!” He then slammed the door shut and standing inside was Roger’s family, waiting to see “daddy.”
I could tell Roger needed some time to recover from what just unfolded outside, so I took liberty in greeting the Maris kids and Pat (his wife). After I was done saying hello to the Maris family, I noticed Roger was looking through a pile of papers on a desk in the side room. He was looking for an address to the local newspaper company because he was getting ready to call them and give them an earful for publishing his home address to the public.
Pat, who now noticed what I had, got Roger’s attention finally and gave him a kiss and hug. Roger finally took a deep breath and gave his kids, Susan, Roger, and Kevin, big bear hugs. Pat then took Roger and me in to see Randy, his newborn baby of just a week. Roger picked up Randy and cradled the little baby in his huge, god-like hands. Pat jokingly told Roger she thought he looked like Babe Ruth, the subject of all hits of criticism Roger had been taking all year, and Roger, who obviously did not find the joke to be very funny, let out a tiny laugh, more of what I believe came out of respect for Pat trying to relax Roger.
The next day, which was the only day we had time off during the afternoon, Roger decided to have a cookout, and he grilled the food himself. I sat with Pat at the picnic table, as she was still recovering from giving birth, and we were both laughing at the way Roger was grilling with his kids. Roger had Kevin up on his shoulders on one grill, and Susan and Roger Jr. were both hard at work listening to daddy’s instructions on the other grill.
While sitting with Pat, she asked me how I thought Roger was doing. I told her it was obvious from reading the papers that Roger and the press were not getting along very well, but he and his teammates were getting along well, and he was trying hard to enjoy his time in New York and get the Yankees back to the World Series. It was then that Pat said something to me that I will never forget about Roger: “Three days just isn’t enough, you know? By the time Roger feels at home, it’s time for him to leave.”
As Roger and the kids walked over to the table with the food, I thought to myself how badly I felt about the pressure and stress that was being put on such a great guy.
No more than thirty seconds after we had all settled down to eat the phone rang. Pat offered to pick it up, as she was the closest. I was not looking at Pat while she was talking because my back was turned from her, but as she called out Roger’s name in a frightened voice, the only face I needed to see was that of Roger’s.
Turned out some huckleberry called the Maris residence to tell them he was going to kidnap their baby, Randy. Roger called the police immediately and they arrived very quickly. The big cop, who looked like he ate one too many doughnuts, told Roger he was 99% sure it was just a prank, his reason being that if someone is going to kidnap his kid, they probably aren’t going to call and warn him about it. But Roger, who wasn’t going to take any chances, decided it would be best if the family slept in one room that night.
I had to get up during the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and as I walked by the room Roger designated for the family to sleep in, I noticed everybody in the room was sound asleep, except for Roger. I peeked in and noticed Roger sitting upright on the bed next to the window, again with Randy cradled in his hands. He was staring out the window and must have heard me outside the door because his head moved quickly and he then kissed Randy on the top of the head before staring out the window once again.
I’m not really sure of the exact reason as to why Roger was wide awake on what seemed like an extremely lonely and depressing night in Kansas City. Roger told me once that he just wanted to play ball and win championships, and that he could never understand why people were acting as they did towards him this season.
By spending a weekend with Roger and his family I got to see the sides of him people have been looking for all season, and I wish I could help bring that side out more often. If the average person sat down one day and saw the hate mail Roger has been receiving, they would think he is probably a complete asshole. But if people saw his other side, maybe then they’d realize he is just what people look for in an athlete, or in a husband, or in a father.
I just hope for Roger’s sake, the second half of this season is less stressful than the first half, because I’m not really sure if he is capable of holding up without going through a complete breakdown.
There should be no bad guy, but it seems, for now, that America has room in its heart for only one hero, and that man is not Roger Maris.
*Please note this is not an actual eyewitness account.
Copyright ©2007 Colin Cerniglia. All Rights Reserved.