The following passage is featured in “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg: A Collection of Interviews With The Legendary Columnist.”
Jerry Izenberg reflected on his interactions with former New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris, his observations about the way the press treated Maris and how the former baseball player reacted to a doctor’s request in his dying days.
When it came to covering baseball, Izenberg said “he had the greatest rapport” with Roger Maris of the New York Yankees, the left-handed slugger who surpassed Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in 1927 with his remarkable 61 in 1961.
Through his work covering the Yankees, Izenberg would see Maris on a regular basis.
It involved an honest give-and-take. Or as Izenberg put it: “I’d come over and he’d say, ‘I just don’t feel like talking today,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, that’s OK.’ ”
Maris was bombarded with questions like “Why didn’t you hit a home run today?” Izenberg recalled.
“And then all these people (are ordered) to get the women’s angle, get this, get that. People who don’t know a baseball from an egg are asking these idiotic questions … and the thing of it was Maris was very forthcoming with me, and I knew the Maris that other people didn’t know.”
“People wanted to talk about how rotten he was,” Izenberg said.
The columnist offered a much different point of view.
“(In 1985), Maris is dying of cancer in (Houston) in the hospital, and really dying — he’s dead about 15 days later. … And he’s in tremendous pain, but he really is getting a rapport with his doctors,” Izenberg said.
One of the doctors informed the ailing Maris about “a new experimental drug that they’d like permission to try it on you,” Izenberg said.
Maris asked for details.
One of the doctors then said, according to Izenberg, “Roger, I’ve got to be honest with you. I don’t know what it’s going to do. But we’ve got to find out because it may be of importance to us, and it’s not going to cure you but it might help somebody else down the line.”
And how did the former baseball slugger react to the doctor’s comments?
Maris said, “Go ahead. I’ll take the drug.”
Years later, Izenberg sees how some viewpoints are difficult to alter.
“He got a bum rap,” Izenberg said, “that he was a lazy outfielder.”
Izenberg illustrated his point with a tale from the 1962 World Series — Game 7, Giants vs. Yankees at Candlestick Park. The Yankees won the game, 1-0, to claim their 20th world title. In that deciding game, in the ninth inning, Willie Mays slugged a two-out double to the right-field corner, and Maris fielded the ball.
The veteran scribe picks up the account here: “Roger Maris threw a ball from the outfield that kept (Matty Alou) on third base (and prevented him from tying the game). If he doesn’t make that throw, they could’ve lost the game.
“Then everyone forgets during the summer after his home run (record) … that there’d be an announcement in the press box: The medical staff says about Roger’s wrist it’s a day-to-day proposition. They’d keep saying that.
“Well, it wasn’t a fuckin’ day-to-day proposition at all; it was never going to be the way it was. And, in fact, he played in the World Series and hit a home run and swung with one hand, one arm if you want to put it that way, because the wrist was so bad.
“But how did he break that wrist? And everyone in the press box would smirk when the PR guy said the day-to-day proposition.
“Well, shit, they were giving the impression that Roger was goofing off.
“How did Roger get that wrist (injury)?” he repeated. “Sliding home and an umpire stepped on it on a close play at the plate … and they (the press) never bothered to explain that…”
What stands out about Izenberg’s relationship with Maris?
“He was an interview that I was pleased that I could do what I needed to do,” he revealed. “I didn’t impose on him, but he didn’t impose on me.”