Funny, isn't it? Thirty years after the fact, Roger Maris' 61st home run seems like a bigger deal than it was on the day it occurred.
"I think so too," said Tracy Stallard, the Boston Red Sox pitcher who gave up the historic blast at Yankee Stadium Oct. 1, 1961. "There's a lot more interest in baseball these days. You've got your card shows and your collectors, and more people like to talk about the game. I go to a lot of charity golf tournaments and it seems like each year more and more people know about what I did."
What Stallard did as a 24-year-old rookie right-hander was throw a 2-and-0 fastball "a little too much out over the plate" that Maris drove about 380 feet into the lower stands in rightfield to break Babe Ruth's record for home runs in a season.
"I didn't know I was pitching until I got to the ballpark that day," said Stallard, 54, from his home in Wise, Va., where he owns a coal business.
"There was no pressure on me. I did the best I could. I was aware of the situation, of course. But my biggest concern with that lineup was not to walk anybody. [The '61 Yankees set a record with 240 home runs in a season.] If you gave up a homer, it was 1-0. If you walked someone, it was probably 2-0."
Stallard got Maris to hit a soft fly ball to leftfield in the first inning. In the fourth, he fell behind 2-and-0, and heeding his own advice, was determined to throw a strike.
"I knew if I walked him four times that day, I'd still be in New York, hangin' from a pole or somethin,' " Stallard drawled. "He hit it kind of high, so I wasn't sure it was out of the park. I watched [rightfielder] Lu Clinton, and he acted like he might have a chance to catch it. Nope." The game wound up 1-0.
Afterward, at a mobbed news conference, Maris said Stallard "was man enough to pitch to me. . . When he got behind me, he came in with the pitch to try to get me out.
"I saw it was a good fastball. I was ready and I connected. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was number 61; it was the only time that the number of the homer ever flashed into my mind as I hit it. Then I heard the tremendous roar of the crowd. I could see them all standing. Then my mind went blank.
"I couldn't even think as I went around the bases. I couldn't tell you what crossed my mind. I don't think anything did. I was in a fog. I was all fogged out from a very, very hectic season and an extremely difficult month."
Stallard left after seven innings and was showered and dressed when the game ended. After answering a few brief questions, he left.
"I wasn't hidin' or runnin' away," he said. "I just didn't want to wait around. Most of the writers were talkin' to Roger, and that's how it should've been. They didn't need me to add anything. It was his day."
But as the years go by, it is clear it was Stallard's day, too. Asked whether he thought the event itself or his link to it was a more vivid memory, he replied, "That I'm linked with it is a bigger deal. I didn't realize the magnitude of the event at the time. There were only 20-something thousand at the game [actually 23,154]. It's gotten to be a bigger deal to people in the last five or six years."
Stallard laughed when asked to imagine how an event like that would be treated today.
"You'd need to fly to the ballpark just to avoid all the traffic," he said. "No way would I have been able to get out without talking to the press."
Not that he would mind. "I'm glad it happened. I'm happy for Roger and I'm happy for me. If it weren't for that home run, it would be like I was buried in one of those coal mines out here. You'd never hear about me."