If you’re a baseball fan, of a certain age at least, you think of 61 as a number that inevitably is accompanied by an asterisk. That’s because, in 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s decades-old single-season home run record of 60 by bashing 61 home runs — only to have his feat placed in the record books with an asterisk.
The 1961 baseball season was an exciting one, with Maris of the New York Yankees and his Hall of Fame teammate Mickey Mantle each chasing Ruth’s record. Mantle was the a hero to many and the sentimental favorite, but it was Maris who broke the record by hitting his 61st home run on October 1, 1961. They even made a made-for-TV movie, 61*, about the season.
Some people weren’t exactly happy that Maris broke Ruth’s record, though. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, a friend of the Babe, insisted that Maris’ record go into the record books with an asterisk, to recognize the fact that Maris hit his 61 homers in a 162-game season, while Ruth hit his 60 round-trippers in a 154-game season. It was a pretty bogus move by the Commish, because even though Maris held the record, the asterisk cheapened and delegitimized it somehow. It communicated, implicitly, that 61 was not an authentic record and required explanation. It’s the most famous use of the asterisk in sports history — in fact, probably the most famous use of punctuation, period, in sports history — and the asterisk dogged Maris for the rest of his career. (And he probably wasn’t comforted by the fact that asterisk comes from the Greek word for “little star,” either.)
The key point, though, is that I’ll always think of 61 as carrying an asterisk. So today, when I celebrate my 61st birthday, I’ve got to put an asterisk after that number.
What’s my footnote? I guess that I really don’t feel like I’m 61, and in fact am a bit shocked that I’ve been around for 61 years. I can’t say that I feel like a kid, but inside I’m more of a forty-something.