Earlier in the movie we saw a Baltimore Orioles pitcher get threatened by his manager who insisted that Maris not get a fastball to hit. The manager said "I'll fine your ass" if a fastball was delivered. The pitcher in question was noted knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. I thought that scene was overdone. Why would the manager project such hostility toward his own player? Was organized baseball that determined to protect the Babe?
Baseball worked so hard to diminish Maris' accomplishment, the attendance on the day of Maris' ultimate 61st homer was poor. Baseball hadn't built up Maris at all, rather the opposite was done. Therefore, I'm surprised Stallard wasn't just instructed to "pitch around" Maris. This would have been so easy to accomplish. Yet we see in the movie "61*," the Stallard character go all-out trying to deliver an effective fastball, just what that Baltimore manager said would be totally taboo. Maris connected for his historic 61st home run.
The movie "61*" was made as a labor of love by Billy Crystal. I have never thought that Maris was as much of a jerk as portrayed in Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four." Maris' problem if he had one, was that he was simply an unsophisticated high school graduate from Fargo ND. That home run race in 1961 played with his head no doubt. We might overlook that he was an important member of the St. Louis Cardinals' pennant-winning teams of 1967 and '68. The Cardinals took it all in '67.
In baseball lore and history, Maris wears the pinstripes of New York. His magical 1961 season, a real anomoly in fact, coincided with the Camelot presidency of JFK. He and Mickey Mantle took advantage of the watered-down pitching of an expansion year. It was the first year of our Minnesota Twins. Hey, we actually beat the Yankees on opening day at Yankee Stadium!
Strange things happened in 1961 such as Norm Cash's .361 batting average, perhaps the most anomalous stat in baseball history. So I think something more was going on, than the watered-down pitching factor. Perhaps "rabbit balls" and corked bats. Perhaps it should have been allowed to go on further - it was fun, a lot more fun than the 1968 "year of the pitcher."
Stallard ended up with a most interesting career. It all gets overshadowed by that October 1 pitch in 1961, that fastball that wasn't quite fast enough. Would you believe Stallard pitched an outstanding game that day? The homer was in fact the only run he allowed. He held the potent Yankee offense to five hits in seven innings and struck out five. He lost the game 1-0.
Very ironically, on October 1 of the previous year, in Stallard's previous showdown with Maris, he struck out the vaunted power hitter.
Stallard's baseball distinctions seem dubious. We can be misled in reviewing this. He lost 20 games in 1964 but let's consider he was paying dues with the original "Amazin' Mets." "Can't anyone here play this game?" manager Casey Stengel said.
It has been said "it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games." True, I'm sure. Such a pitcher has the confidence of his manager every four days. (It would be every five days now.) Stallard won ten games in '64 and two of those wins were shutouts, among eleven complete games. The "complete games" stat of course means nothing today, not in our new age of pitch counts. Pitchers had their careers die like flies in the '60s when I followed baseball as a boy. They threw out their arms, a process that started for them back in little league.
In 1964, Stallard was the losing pitcher in the longest major league game in baseball history: seven hours and 23 minutes! Stallard also took the loss in Jim Bunning's Fathers Day perfect game against the Mets.
Stallard moved on to the Cardinals after his Mets tenure. The Cards definitely had a sheen of competitiveness. Stallard had his best season in 1965 as he started 26 games, in the same rotation as Bob Gibson. He had an 11-8 record with a career low ERA of 3.38. Despite the quality, Stallard couldn't stay on the big league roster through the 1966 season. He spent time with the Tulsa Oilers. He got roughed up in his time with the big club, going 1-5 with a 5.68 ERA with the Cards who slid down to sixth place.
Stallard continued his involvement in baseball despite the 1966 futility. He toiled in the minors. At age 31 he retired from the sport and returned to his home state of Virginia. He would pull the uniform back on occasionally for old-timers events. He didn't back away from recognition as the guy who gave up the Maris home run. He appeared in the Roger Maris Golf Tournament in Fargo and won the charity event in 1990.
In 1998 Stallard backed away from the baseball glow as McGwire and Sosa went on their homer chase. He no longer wanted the unflattering attention. In 1997 a new baseball field at his high school alma mater, Coeburn High School, was named in his honor. He chose not to attend the first game played there, perhaps knowing he'd be dogged by that down note in his otherwise impressive career: that October 1 happening of '61 with JFK in the White House. That Roger Maris home run.
Lots of other pitchers gave up Maris homers in '61. Stallard was out on the mound for the climactic moment, captured so well in the Billy Crystal movie.
Messages from Hollywood
Here's an aside I'll offer: "61*" was not really a movie about the home run record, it was a movie about family and values. It's a Hollywood trait - intangible values at the forefront when we really think we're seeing a movie about something sensational. The movie "The Candidate" wasn't really about the Robert Redford character winning an election, it was about the character following in his father's footsteps as a politician. Want to know why Hollywood has left wing political values? It's because they know humanism really sells.
Let's remember Stallard as a persistent pitcher who doggedly worked through challenging periods in his career, with little apparent aversion to being in the minors. It was his career. He had many "up" moments. Congratulations Tracy Stallard, the six feet-five athlete of note from Coeburn, Virginia.