From Maris to McGwire

Article reprinted from NJ Star-Ledger: 1998/09/09
From Maris to McGwire, baseball still a blast for eyewitness to history

The first baseball memories are always the best anyway, so it’s probably just as well that Scott Green’s memories begin along Lou Gehrig Way, one of the old boulevards that used to lead pilgrims and pedestrians to Yankee Stadium.  Scott was 6 that day, Oct. 1, 1961, and 37 years later he wishes he had more mental snapshots of the day.

But the ones he does have will do just fine. Scott’s dad, Bob, had scored a pair of tickets, and though the father’s baseball loyalties belonged exclusively to the St. Louis Cardinals — an affiliation the son would also adopt before long — he leapt at the chance to watch the Yankees and the Red Sox at the big ballpark that Sunday afternoon, last day of the season, after the drive over from Whitestone, Queens. Roger Maris was sitting on 60 home runs, and this would be his last chance to leapfrog past Babe Ruth.

There are two especially strong recollections stored in Scott Green’s memory bank. One is the green-tinted facade that encircled the grandstand of the stadium’s original design, a grand and imposing appointment to the wide eyes of a 6-year-old, visible all along the walk from the car to the kiosks that fronted the stadium.

The other is Maris’ fourth-inning at-bat.
“Here we go,” Bob Green whispered to his boy. They had terrific seats, eight rows behind the Yankees dugout. And so they had a perfect view when, soon enough, Maris unleashed a vicious swing, propelling the ball toward the distant right-field seats.
A few moments after crossing home plate, Maris’ teammates pushed him out of the dugout to acknowledge the rousing ovation. There were only about 23,000 people in the house that day, a shockingly low figure.  Scott Green has always been thrilled that he was one of them.

“What a great way to be introduced to a great game,” he said. “What an amazing thing for a kid to be able to see.”
So there was little question how Scott, now 43 and a landscaper who lives in Hampton Bays on Long Island, was going to spend his Labor Day weekend.  He has a friend, Mike Warner, who lives in St. Louis. The Cardinals were in town. And Mark McGwire was sniffing Maris’ storied record.

“I was there when Roger hit his record,” Scott says. “And I wanted to be there when Mark got his. The fact that he’s a Cardinal made it that much more special to me. If at all possible, I wanted to be there. No matter what.”

He had a ticket for Sunday and Monday’s game and last night’s game, too. Monday, when McGwire hit his 61st homer off Mike Morgan to tie Maris, Green was in the left-field stands, not far from where the ball hit and where it landed. There is little doubt he was, at the very least, one of only a handful of people who saw both 61s in person.

And last night, he saw No. 62 enter the history books. “I’m happy I did it,” Green says. “No question about it. The atmosphere in and around the ballpark, and throughout the city, was just incredible. It was almost like a World Series atmosphere, and maybe better than one.”

After Monday’s game, Green and his friends went down to Laclede’s Landing, a popular section of town close to the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch. The entire city, it seemed, had gathered there to recall what they’d just seen and to celebrate what they’d all just shared.  “Like one big party,” Green says.

His affinity for the Cardinals has often put him at odds with friends and neighbors. He spent much of the 1980s locked in friendly — and sometimes not-so-friendly — interactions with buddies who happened to root for the Mets. In 1985 and 1987, when the Cardinals squeezed past the Mets for NL East titles, he rejoiced in his buddies’ miseries.

He recalls Sept. 12, 1987 as one of his favorite days as a fan, when Terry Pendleton took Roger McDowell over the wall at Shea for a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth, just as the Mets seemed poised to creep within a half-game of the Cardinals.
He is like so many baseball fans, able and eager to recall and recite details from games that happened years ago. Like the time Ted Simmons pinch hit a grand slam in the ninth inning to beat Jon Matlack in the `70s.  Or the time, a few years before that, when Matlack tossed a one-hitter at the Cardinals, but had his bid for the Mets’ first no-hitter broken up by …  “John Curtis,” he says, satisfaction filling his voice, still, 24 years later. “The opposing pitcher.”

Given the length and breadth of this devotion, there is little question where this impromptu vacation to the middle of the country will stand in Green’s heart.  “I’ll never forget this, any of it,” he says. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.”
NOTES: Mike Vaccaro appears regularly in The Star-Ledger.