Roger Maris's 61* anniversary: Today's sluggers might dream of such a feat (video)
Half a century ago, Yankees outfielder Roger Maris slugged his historic home run on the last day of the season. The majors' big bashers of today are trying to hit equally significant homers.
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Bautista’s emergence as baseball’s premier long-ball hitter has caught baseball watchers off guard, much as Maris’s slugging exploits with the Yankees did in the early 1960s. In his previous five years in the majors, spent with the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Athletics, Maris had averaged a so-so 17 home runs per season. Then, in Yankee pinstripes, he turned absolutely Ruthian, hitting 39 and 61 homers in 1960 and ’61.Skip to next paragraph
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For Bautista, the transformation from ordinary to extraordinary was even more pronounced. His career high had been 16 home runs, in 2006, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but with Toronto last year he had a major-league-leading 54. He also set a single-season improvement record, jumping from 13 to 54 home runs in one fell swoop, a 41-home run swing that broke the previous mark of 38 set by Davey Johnson in 1973.
Whenever a player makes such a dramatic slugging improvement these days, it can raise suspicions in some minds about performance-enhancing drugs. But stricter testing seems to have flushed out the cheaters and no one in the game has raised questions about Bautista, A solid six-feet, 195 lbs, he chalks up his newfound hitting prowess to changing his batting mechanics, including learning to swing earlier.
He probably is helped somewhat by playing in a stadium with a retractable dome, the Rogers Centre, which is known to be a favorable environment for launching four-baggers. But by the same token, he has played for a Toronto team that has failed to make the playoffs since 1993 and doesn’t send a 'Murderer’s Row' of hitters to the plate.
One of many talented Dominicans in the majors, Bautista can be pleased with his 97 homers over the past two years. However, he might wish he could trade them for one shot like Longoria’s missile for the ages.