The late Ford Frick was known as the asterisk commissioner, but Fay Vincent may earn an exclamation point for what he plans to do.
Thirty years ago Frick attached a verbal asterisk to the fabled single season home-run record by separating Roger Maris from Babe Ruth. Maris hit 61 homers in a 162-game season in 1961. Ruth hit 60 in a 154-game schedule in 1927. Since 1961, baseball's record books have separated the two players by the number of games played.
Vincent wants to change that. "I am inclined to do whatever can be done," he said yesterday. "I think there should be one record."
In the record books, Maris' 61 homers carries a parenthesis that reads 162 games. Ruth's 60 is listed under 154 games. Vincent's plan would be to remove Ruth's name altogether, making Maris the undisputed record-holder.
Vincent is exploring the method by which the change will be made. "I suspect what we'll do is convene a committee on something called statistics and history," he said.
Roger Maris Jr. said the family never attached an asterisk to the record. "When he hit it everybody thought people would come along and hit 62, 63, 64 or 65 that it would be no big deal," the 32-year-old Maris said from Gainesville, Fla., where he works at the beer distributorship started by his late father. "As the years have gone on I think the record has proven its worth."
The asterisk issue surfaced in the 1961 expansion season because it was the first year the major leagues went from 154 to 162 games. Frank Slocum, a chief assistant to Frick, said Frick agonized over the public perception that he cheated Maris. Frick had been a close friend of Ruth and was accused of preserving Ruth's record. Slocum said, "It bothered him in the sense he felt people would think he would compromise something against another ballplayer to Ruth's advantage."
Slocum said he knew Maris was bothered by the so-called asterisk. "In 1962 early in the season we're sitting in the clubhouse and Roger says to me 'Your boss screwed me around,' " Slocum said. "That was his feeling. I said 'Roger, let me ask you a question. Suppose there was even more expansion and the schedule goes to 170 games. Let's suppose that a guy comes along and hits his 62nd home run in the 165th game. Did he break your record Roger?' He looked at me and he grinned and said 'No.' "