Tracy Stallard, 80, Sox hurler who gave up Maris’s historic homer
Tracy Stallard was pitching his first full season with the Red Sox when Roger Maris stepped to the plate in the fourth inning on Oct. 1, 1961. Maris had never hit a home run against Mr. Stallard, and he wanted to that day in Yankee Stadium. It was the final game of the regular season, and Maris had already tied Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season.
The righthander’s first two pitches were balls, prompting the crowd to boo Mr. Stallard, thinking he might try to walk Maris and deny him a chance at the record. The third pitch was the kind of fastball Mr. Stallard was known for throwing, and Maris hit it into the right-field seats for his record-setting 61st home run of the season.
Mr. Stallard, who was 80 when he died Wednesday, was unfazed later that afternoon as he sat in the locker room. He had pitched well and gave up only one run — the Maris home run, which was enough for the Yankees to win, 1-0.
“I don’t feel bad about it at all,” he told the Globe after the game. “Why should I? The guy hit 60 home runs off a bunch of other pitchers in the league before he got me today. This was the third time I pitched to him this year, and the first hit he got off me.”
That one pitch enshrined his name in sports trivia and forever linked him to Maris, who after the game told the Globe that Mr. Stallard was “a good kid and a good pitcher. Hell, a pitcher can’t get the ball where he wants it every pitch. I’m sure he didn’t want to throw it in exactly that spot, but he didn’t walk me.”
In the years that followed, that moment in sports history has assumed greater importance. Maris and his teammate Mickey Mantle had chased Ruth’s record all summer in 1961. The gregarious Mantle was always more of a crowd favorite, but finished the regular season with 54 home runs after an injury and a cold hobbled him. Fan excitement seemed to dim even more when Commissioner Ford Frick decided in advance that Major League Baseball would duly note that a new home run record was set in a 162-game season, rather than the 154 games played in Ruth’s era – which figuratively attached an asterisk to the accomplishment.
On Oct. 1, 1961, the New York crowd totaled only 23,154, filling less than half of Yankee Stadium. “I’ve met at least 2 million people who tell me they were there,” Mr. Stallard told the Globe in 1991.
During that interview, as the 30th anniversary of Maris’s record-setting homer approached, he added that players “knew what was going on back then, but we didn’t think that much about it. It seems like it’s bigger now. God, I’ve been invited all over the country the last two or three years. It wasn’t like that before. Even that winter, after he hit it, nobody ever said too much about it. All the kids know it now. Kids who weren’t even born.”
In later years Mr. Stallard was less willing to be interviewed, particularly in 1998 as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa closed in on Maris’s record, but in 1991 he spoke fondly about being part of a historic moment.
“I’m glad he did it off me,” Mr. Stallard said of the famous home run. “Otherwise, I would never have been thought of again. That was about all I did, and I’ve had a good time with it.”
Mr. Stallard was born on Aug. 31, 1937, in Coeburn, a small town in southwest Virginia. He was one of three children, and his parents were Artice Stallard and the former Thelma Richardson.
A star pitcher as a teenager, Mr. Stallard grew to be 6 feet 5 inches and 204 pounds by the time he made the Red Sox roster. According to a biographical sketch on the Society for American Baseball Research website, he was 8-0 his senior year at Coeburn High School and threw two no-hitters — accomplishments that led to his 2005 induction into the Virginia High School Hall of Fame.
“I know every time we played Coeburn, he would have 16 or 17 strikeouts and that was it,” Carroll Dale, who was then an athlete at a nearby high school, told the Bristol Herald Courier in Virginia in 2008.
“I don’t think anybody was very competitive when he was pitching,” added Dale, who later was a wide receiver in the NFL.
Mr. Stallard began his professional career at 18 with the Lafayette Red Sox in the Midwest League, and subsequently played for Raleigh in the Carolina League, Allentown in the Eastern League, and Minneapolis in the American Association before being called up to the Red Sox in September 1960 as a relief pitcher.
He stayed with the Red Sox for the 1961 and ’62 seasons before being traded to the New York Mets. With little offensive support, Mr. Stallard was 10-20 in 1964, but recorded two shutouts among 11 complete games. That year he also was the losing pitcher in what was then the longest game in major league history — a seven-hour-and-23-minute contest against the San Francisco Giants in May. The following month, he was the losing pitcher when Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies on Father’s Day.
Mr. Stallard played his final two major league seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals and in 1965 posted his best record, 11 wins and 8 losses.
He died in the Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn., according to information posted on the website of the Buford G. Sturgill Funeral Homes of Wise and Coeburn, Va. A complete listing of survivors was not immediately available.
A service was held and a burial was planned for Monday in Powell Valley Memorial Gardens in Big Stone Gap, Va., according to the funeral home.
After his baseball career, Mr. Stallard worked in the coal business and in construction in and around Wise, Va., not far from where he grew up in Coeburn. He and Maris became friends, and they had almost been teammates when the Yankees traded Maris to St. Louis, but Mr. Stallard returned to the minors in the 1967 season.
Mr. Stallard once won the Roger Maris Golf Tournament in Fargo, N.D., where Maris had attended high school. “Somebody wrote that I finally got even,” he said with a laugh in the 1991 Globe interview.
And to the end he was adamant that he didn’t give Maris an easy pitch to hit on that long-ago Oct. 1.
“God no,” he told the Globe. “It was 2-0 and I was just trying to throw a strike. I don’t know how anybody could help anybody hit a home run. Even in batting practice. I give him all I got. The fastball was probably all I had.”