- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

A politician in North Dakota thinks the major league record for home runs in a season should be returned to its rightful owner. And that, he claims with some justification, is Hibbing, N.D.-born, Fargo, N.D.-bred Roger Maris.

All the players who have topped Maris’ total of 61 in 1961 — Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds — are now suspected Steroid Sluggers, and state Sen. Joel Heitkamp thinks it’s only fair that “Roger should get his record back.”

Hey, you can’t blame the guy. I mean, it’s not like North Dakota has many sports heroes to stick out its chest about. In Sports Illustrated’s list of the state’s all-time greatest athletes, Darin Erstad checked in at No. 3. So perhaps somebody should be looking out for Maris’ legacy — somebody other than Bud Selig or the Elias Sports Bureau, that is.

In fact, while we’re at it, why don’t we reinstate — or just plain correct — some other wronged records, starting with … Michael Jordan’s 30.2 career scoring average in the NBA.

As a result of his ill-fated comeback with the Wizards, Jordan finished barely ahead of Wilt Chamberlain, whose mark of 30.1 was the standard for many years. But here’s the thing: If Michael had played in Chamberlain’s era, before the 3-point shot came along, his average would have been 29.6, not 30.2 (thanks to 581 treys being reduced to, uh, deuces). And really now, should Wilt lose his record because of a technicality like that? You could probably find a state senator in Pennsylvania, where “The Stilt” spent much of his career, who would say, resoundingly, no.

And what about Eric Dickerson’s NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards in 1984? Shouldn’t something be done about that, too? After all, the only reason Dickerson owns the mark is that the schedule was expanded from 14 to 16 scrums a few years earlier. In terms of yards a game (131.6), though, his ‘84 season is only the fourth-best in league history; O.J. Simpson (143.1 in ‘73), Jim Brown (133.1 in ‘63) and Walter Payton (132.3 in ‘77), all averaged more.

Should O.J. lose his record because the owners were insistent on fattening their wallets? There’s probably a state senator in New York, where “The Juice” did most of his running, who would love to get some mileage out of that.

(Then again, maybe not, given Simpson’s post-football travails.)

Then there’s Flipper Anderson’s NFL record of 330 receiving yards in a game in 1989. That one carries the notation “(OT),” meaning Flipper needed additional time to accomplish his feat. In the first four quarters, he gained 266 yards, well short of the existing mark of 309 set by Stephone Paige four years earlier. Indeed, at that point, Anderson’s total wasn’t even in the top five of all time (and today would barely make the top 10). Should Paige lose his record because Flipper got to play another 8 minutes?

Memo to any state senators from Missouri, where Stephone starred for the Chiefs: Gentlemen, start your soapboxes.

Let’s see … what else can our politicians get worked up about? I know: Ted Williams’ stolen batting title in 1954. Teddy Ballgame hit .345 that season, four points better than Bobby Avila, but his 386 at-bats were 14 less than required. How silly is that? Especially when you consider that Williams walked an American League-leading 136 times and had 526 plate appearances, 49 more than would be needed today to qualify. A congressional investigation is surely in order. No player should be denied the batting crown because opponents are afraid to pitch him.

It’s a can of worms, admittedly, but one worth opening at least a crack. Should Norm Cash still be recognized as the 1961 American League batting champ — even after admitting his Louisville Slugger was corked — or should the title be transferred to Tigers teammate Al Kaline, who was runner-up? For that matter, should Bonds’ Giants be forced to “vacate” their 2002 National League pennant, just as Villanova and Western Kentucky were forced to vacate their second- and third-place finishes in the 1971 NCAA tournament (for using ineligible players)?

Sounds like a job for C-Span.

Of course, there’s a rather large hole in Sen. Heitkamp’s argument, about the size of the one between third and short: Maris had the benefit of eight extra games in his dream season; without them, he wouldn’t have hit Nos. 60 and 61. If you’re really talking about fairness, senator, the home run record should still belong to this pinstriped fellow with a fondness for hot dogs, goes by the name of Ruth.

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