Rosemount man says home run champ is hero we all can learn from
For Colin McCann, his six-year campaign to get former New York Yankee Roger Maris inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is as much about the baseball as it is what Maris represents to everyday people.
Maris, who held the single-season MLB home run record for 37 years, endured scorn and death threats during the 1961 season when he eclipsed Babe Ruth’s 1927 record.
It was Maris’ mental ordeal and his unfortunate path of not seeking help for his problems that has deepened McCann’s resolve to see his mission through.
The Rosemount man wants to reach out to people with Maris’ story in an effort to honor this ordinary man’s legacy and motivate them to realize their own.
“I feel that Roger’s story can be used for a good cause: encouraging and inspiring people to seek help for their problems,” McCann said. “I’ve learned from Roger Maris that I don’t want to see anybody go through any kind of pressure and stress without getting help.”
During that 1961 season, many people did not want to see Maris break Ruth’s record because Ruth was so beloved by Yankee fans and his single-season home run record of 60 was sacred. Many also wanted Maris’ affable teammate, Mickey Mantle, to reach the record that season instead of the reclusive Maris. Mantle ended with 54 that year.
“Roger … would cope with the stress … by smoking three to four packs (of cigarettes) a day,” said McCann who attends Dakota County Technical College and works at Cub Foods in Rosemount. “He never truly learned to release that stress, and all those years of smoking … help contribute to his early death.”
Maris died on Dec. 14, 1985, after a nearly three-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 51.
“It’s never too late to seek help,” McCann said. “I see Roger’s story as one where he had to try to overcome his problems with the press and the fans and performed one of the greatest achievements in sports in the 20th century in the process. But overcoming them only helped shape the misery he had to encounter the last seven seasons of his career (1962-68) and, in a way, the last 20-plus years of his life.”
McCann said Maris was introverted and wanted a private life off the field, which, in part, was why he moved his family to the small town of Raytown, Missouri, where he spent the off-season – a place that McCann visited last year.
“When he remained private in his interviews, that really hurt his reputation,” McCann said. “His short and precise answers weren’t enough. People wanted a story, so stories were made up. And when enough of these ‘stories’ were written, Maris had had enough and started ignoring the press. That only made things worse.”
McCann said Maris’ story has shaped his life.
“I never realized how much we all can relate to a story like his until I personally realized that some of the same people who once openly criticized Maris are now doing the same with me.”
McCann said he has been the object of insult and scorn as people have told him to find something better to do with his life than worry about the Hall of Fame.
“The main thing this campaign has taught me over the years is that failure and struggles are something that we all have to encounter in order to succeed in life,” McCann said. “People often try to discourage me and try to persuade me into campaigning for someone else. Hearing that only motivates me to try harder.”
When McCann was 14 years old he saw the motion picture “61*,” which chronicled Maris’ pursuit of Ruth’s home run record.
“That movie really moved me,” McCann said. “I was amazed at the courage Maris displayed throughout the year of 1961.”
He later read Maury Allen’s book “Roger Maris: A Man of All Seasons,” through which McCann discovered the Hall of Fame snub of Maris.
“I couldn’t believe it,” McCann said.
In May 2010, when McCann created his Facebook campaign for Maris, there were a couple other such efforts across the U.S., but his is now the only active one for Maris. His page has close to 3,000 likes.
McCann felt the HOF Veterans Committee would elect Maris in 2011 upon the 50th anniversary of his home-run record, but he was not even nominated.
After that, McCann increased his efforts in 2012, putting together more research and ramping up the campaign again after Maris was snubbed in 2014 and McCann graduated from Rosemount High School.
Now he’s focused on a petition to support Maris’ Hall of Fame entrance. The petition is about 75 signatures from reaching 1,000. His goal is 3,000.
McCann plans to send the petition to as many Veterans Committee and baseball writers as possible in 2017.
McCann said there are three reasons cited that Maris is not in the Hall of Fame – a short career, injury troubles and his attitude.
The Hibbing, Minnesota-born Maris played 12 years in the major leagues – two years greater than the HOF minimum – and missed more than 400 games due to injury and had his career essentially end with a hand injury in 1965.
McCann said despite Maris’ low career totals, he has statistics similar or identical to Hall of Famers Hack Wilson, Bill Mazeroski, Tommy McCarthy and Ross Youngs.
Maris’ home run record continues to stand in the American League 55 seasons later and the men who passed Maris – Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 and Barry Bonds in 2001 – are linked to having used performance-enhancing drugs.
It irks McCann that these three players are ahead of Maris.
“I’m truly grateful for all the support my family, friends, co-workers, and followers have given me over the last seven years,” McCann said. “Running this campaign is hard, and though at times some of the people closest to me get tired of me posting and talking about this, they all understand how important this is to me, which is all that matters for me.”
McCann didn’t play baseball as a youth, but he says he likes the beauty of the game.
“I enjoy discussing the politics, the strategies, the stats and the history of the game,” McCann said. “I enjoy having a lot of friendly and occasionally heated discussions about baseball in general.”
During high school, McCann participated in Quiz Bowl and Knowledge Bowl. His Quiz Bowl team advanced to the National High School Tournament his senior year.
McCann also worked on the student newspaper, serving as a part-time editor his senior year.
He said he enjoys bowling with family, friends and in a couple of leagues. But it’s still baseball that’s on his mind most of the time.
“Sometimes it takes a while for dreams to come true, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come true,” McCann said.