The Unwanted Hero
By DANNY MINTON
Many bad things can happen in a sports arena. Most of the time, they are forgotten and, although they may affect the game’s outcome, have little impact past the game in which they happen. People get frustrated and angry, but it soon subsides. Very few times, what happens on the playing field provokes hatred and contempt from both the visiting and home teams.
That contempt is precisely what happened one fall day over a half-century ago in a stadium less than half capacity. Only 23,154 fans in a stadium with seating for 56,866 were there on the last game of the season to witness what many people in the country, both baseball fans and not, would view as one of, if not the most, undesirable thing ever to be done on a baseball diamond. What happened the first day of October in 1961 would eat at people for years to come. The commissioner of baseball did his best to dismiss it, but the horror of it lingered in his mind to the point that he had to do something to diminish its impact on the sport.
To many, it was Tracy Stallard’s fault. He really could have prevented it and was the one who allowed it to happen. When it was all over and the game ended, the scoreboard showed 1-0. But it wasn’t the score that burned people up; it was how the team won, with fans from both sides wishing it had never happened.
I remember it myself. It took place at the bottom of the fourth inning with Tracy Stallard on the mound. When it happened, we held our breath and then gave out a deep, groaning sigh. It couldn’t happen, could it? But it did. The count was 2-0 when Stallard threw a fastball. At that moment, America’s greatest baseball hero fell. At that moment, Roger Maris parked the fastball over the outfield fence, hitting his 61st home run and breaking the “Babe’s” record. The great Bambino’s record had fallen.
People thought it just wasn’t right. If anyone was going to do it, it should have been Mantle. After all, he was the true Yankee. But it wasn’t his time. As Roger Maris put it, “I always come across as being bitter. I’m not bitter. People were very reluctant to give me any credit. I thought hitting 60 home runs was something. But everyone shied off. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t the chosen one, but I was the one who got the record.”
“Maybe I wasn’t the chosen one.” Babe Ruth’s home run record was sacred to a boy in the ’50s and ’60s. Roger Maris just didn’t fit the type of player everyone expected or wanted to break the record if it had to be broken. It was a sad day for many that would last for years to come. It was so “bad” for baseball that the record books showed his record as 61* since it took more than the 154 games in which Ruth played. Ruth’s record was intact alongside Maris’ due to a technicality.
It’s similar to when Jesus came. Jesus is not what the world expected in a savior. He didn’t come as a king. He didn’t come as someone with the power to win great battles and defeat the emperor. He didn’t come with “pomp and circumstance.” He just wasn’t what the people of the time expected. He was a disappointment. When the Messiah came, he had to be a great king with a dynamic personality.
Too often, we measure the greatness of a man’s worth and accomplishments by what we see on the outside. On the other hand, God is more concerned, not by what he can do on the outside, but by who he is on the inside. That’s the measuring stick that counts. Are we men and women of God?
Roger Maris was a good guy, but he was not the hero America wanted. He was an unwanted hero. His accomplishments on the field are better than many of those in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though he is not in it as an accomplished player, not having all the milestones of a great player. The man who broke Ruth’s record is left outside. The man who for 37 years sat atop the record books remains ignored.
Jesus, the son of God, who came to this earth and died on the cross, too, has been ignored. Whether he was who they wanted or not, the fact was He’s the one God sent. He was despised, rejected, spat upon, and crucified. Yet “the stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone.” (1 Peter 2:7) To many, He was not the chosen one, but in the end, He is the one who will carry us to victory.
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ