In 1961 the American League schedule was lengthened by eight games to 162, and it was about this time 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 for the Baltimore Orioles, declared that he thought that Roger Maris held the "legitimate home run record."
Now, this could be said to be self-serving of Davis, inasmuch as he's hit 37 home runs in the Orioles' first 97 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 case so much as he is uplifting the memory of Maris, who was denied the full honors he deserves. He died young and, unlike 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 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' rival so much as he becomes his surrogate.
Batting now, No. 19, Chris Davis.
So, you and you and you, clap if you believe in Roger Maris.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.