Sixty years ago, New York Yankee Roger Maris did what was once believed to be impossible: he beat Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs. In 1998, Mark McGwire would eventually surpass Maris with 70 homers prompting comedian and lover of baseball Billy Crystal to tell Maris’ story in HBO Original, 61*.
Directed by Crystal and written by Hank Steinberg, the sports drama recounts the 1961 Yankees season when Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) broke Ruth’s record. As the season starts, Maris is coming off his MVP designation from the previous year even though veteran Yankee Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) is still on the team and beloved by all of New York. Right out of the gate, the “M&M Boys,” Maris and Mantle, begin a hot streak of home runs, and it doesn’t take long for the press to wonder if either of these men could break Babe Ruth’s 1927 record.
“…recounts the 1961 Yankees season when Roger Maris broke Ruth’s record.”
As much as this is about Maris’ run at the record, the film is a snapshot of the state of baseball in 1961 when the sport was more about the game, the players’ personalities, and less about the money (though it’s never not about the money). Maris and Mantle are a study of contrasts. Mantle is a Yankee legend, and Maris is a quiet guy who just wants to play baseball. Mantle likes to drink and party, while Maris is a family man locked up in his apartment to stay out of trouble. Yet, both the public and the press want the former to break the record, and at the same time, wish the latter would break his arms.
61* explores the relationship between Mantle and Maris well. The press and dirt sheets tell stories of their bitter rivalry and backstabbing over who will break the record. The reality was that Mantle and Maris shared an apartment in New York, so Maris could help Mantle clean up his partying lifestyle. The two admired one another, and any conflict was born from Mantle’s alcoholism and feared that the end of his storied career would be imminent.
"…a nostalgic look back at when the business of baseball was simple."