Roger Maris

May 9, 1967: Roger Maris hits his first Cardinals home run

As Roger Maris emerged from the dugout in the sixth inning of the Cardinals’ 6-3 win over the Pirates on May 9, 1967, St. Louis first baseman Orlando Cepeda somehow knew that something special was about to happen.

“I told him when he left the dugout he would hit a home run,” Cepeda said.[1]

Maris proved the Cardinals’ first baseman correct, hitting his first home run as a Cardinal and National Leaguer after hitting 261 in the American League with the Indians, Athletics, and Yankees.

“I’m glad he knew it,” Maris said after sending the ball 400 feet into the stands in right-center field. “I certainly didn’t. That (Woodie) Fryman’s tough. His ball really moves.”[2]

Though Maris made history when he broke the single-season home run record with 61 in 1961, those days were long past. Beset by injuries, Maris hit just eight homers in 1965 and 13 more in 1966 before the Yankees traded him to the Cardinals for Charley Smith.

As Sridhar Pappu described it in his 2017 book, Year of the Pitcher:

What the Yankees kept quiet was that he’d irreparably injured his hand. Surgery followed, but Maris would never regain his strength. He couldn’t cope with any kind of fastball. He had to hope for off-speed pitches, which were becoming increasingly rare. By the end of 1966, baseball had become an albatross for Maris, and he wanted out. When he agreed to the Yankees’ request to hold off announcing his retirement until the start of spring training in 1967, they promptly traded him within days to the Cardinals.[3]

Though Maris had developed a reputation for being surly with the New York media and his Yankees teammates, the Cardinals didn’t have the same experience with the two-time American League MVP.

“Contrary to what we’d read about him in the papers, Maris wasn’t chronically miserable,” Bob Gibson wrote in 2015. “… He was just a plainspoken, chain-smoking North Dakotan who was happy to be away from high-rise apartments and the media capital of the universe; and happy to finally be happy.”[4]

After 18 games with the Cardinals, Maris was hitting .270 with eight RBIs. Though he hadn’t homered yet, he wasn’t facing the same media criticism he had encountered in New York.

“When we made the deal for him, the one thing I told the St. Louis sportswriters was that I hoped they wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on him,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst wrote in his autobiography. “I said he was coming to a different park, on a different team, in a different league, and not to expect him to be a major home-run hitter. … The press did lay off him, and Roger later thanked me for what I said because he said it was something he was worried about coming to a new town.”[5]

The May 9 contest marked the second game in a three-game series between the Cardinals and Pirates. Cepeda, who went on to win the National League MVP that season with 25 homers and 111 RBIs, drove in the first run of the game with a third-inning double to left field that scored Julian Javier. Mike Shannon followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

The Pirates got on the scoreboard off Steve Carlton in the fourth when Matty Alou reached on an infield single and advanced to second on an error. Gene Alley drove Alou home with an RBI single that cut the Cardinals’ lead in half.

With one out in the sixth inning, Maris stepped to the plate against Pirates lefthander Woodie Fryman, a 27-year-old who had won 12 games as a rookie in 1966, and deposited the ball into the right-center field stands 400 feet away.

An inning later, Cepeda hit another RBI double off Fryman and Tim McCarver followed with a two-run triple to give the Cardinals a 6-1 lead. Pittsburgh’s Jose Pagan hit a two-run single in the ninth to produce the final 6-3 score.

Cepeda, who received a penicillin shot before the game to combat a respiratory ailment, finished the day 4-for-4 with a walk, two RBIs, and two runs scored.

“Maybe I ought to get one before every game,” he said.[6]

Lou Brock and Dal Maxvill each added two hits.

Carlton earned his second win of the season after striking out nine Pirates over eight innings. Four of the Pirates’ seven hits against Carlton were infield singles.

“My rhythm wasn’t so hot at times, but I was hitting some good spots,” Carlton said.[7]

Joe Hoerner recorded the final three outs to earn the save.

It marked the Cardinals’ 24th win in their last 28 games in Pittsburgh.

“Just play all your games at Forbes Field and you’ll win by 48 games,” said Pirates coach Hal Smith, a former Cardinals catcher.[8]

Maris went on to bat .261 that season with nine homers and 55 RBIs, then hit .385 with a home run and seven RBIs in the Cardinals’ seven-game World Series win over the Red Sox. He played the final season of his 12-year major-league career in 1968, batting .255 with five homers and 45 RBIs in 310 at-bats. Though he hit just .158 in that World Series against the Tigers, it marked the seventh World Series of his career, including three world championships.

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[1] “Pirates Just Another Club Without Clemente,” Pittsburgh Press, May 10, 1967.

[2] Neal Russo, “Cepeda Is a Hit in Field,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1967.

[3] Sridhar Pappu (2017), Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age, Kindle Android version, Page 263.

[4] Bob Gibson (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android version, Page 36.

[5] Red Schoendienst with Rob Rains (1998), Red: A Baseball Life, Sports Publishing, Champaign, Ill., 145-146.

[6] Neal Russo, “Cepeda Is a Hit in Field,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1967.

[7] Neal Russo, “Cepeda Is a Hit in Field,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1967.

[8] Neal Russo, “Cepeda Is a Hit in Field,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 10, 1967.