Thirty-four years after the fact, research suggests that perhaps Roger Maris wasn't the lone American League RBIs leader in 1961, after all.
The New York Yankees outfielder not only broke Babe Ruth's home run record with 61 that year, but also led in RBIs with 142, one more than the Orioles' Jim Gentile.
But Ron Rakowski, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, maintains that Maris mistakenly was credited with an extra RBI July 5 against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium. Therefore, Rakowski says, Gentile and Maris should be co-leaders at 141.
"I wish I'd known that then," said Gentile, whose 141 are an Orioles record. "The next winter, [general manager] Lee MacPhail said if I had led the league in RBIs, that alone would have been worth an extra $5,000."
Laughing, Gentile added, "Maybe I should write the Orioles a letter."
The official scorer, a New York baseball writer, reported two RBIs for Maris to the league office. But Rakowski says the Associated Press, newspapers in New York and Cleveland, The Sporting News, Indians and Yankees play-by-play sheets and score sheets from Dick Young of the New York Daily News and Harold Rosenthal of the New York Herald Tribune show Maris with one RBI.
The official scorer's name may or may not be buried in one of the 1,500 boxes of reports and records at the Hall of Fame that haven't been examined for years. Rakow-ski did his research from microfilm of the AL's day-by-day ledgers onto which statistics from the scorers' reports were transcribed. Those ledgers credit Maris with two RBIs on July 5.
In the third inning, with Tony Kubek on first, Maris singled to right. Third baseman Bubba Phillips took the throw from Willie Kirkland, then threw to first trying to catch Maris rounding the base. Phillips' throw went into the seats, allowing Kubek to score. Maris later hit a bases-empty homer, but the official scorer reported two RBIs for him, one on Phillips' error that enabled Kubek to score.
"After 34 years, no one is likely to change it," said Gentile, who lives in Edmond, Okla., and helps conduct the Orioles Fantasy Camp as well as baseball camps for youngsters in Oklahoma. "Well, maybe it's worth an asterisk."
Rakowski said he wants to see more than an asterisk. The Park Ridge, Ill., researcher wants record books to reflect his finding by stripping what he considers the "phantom" RBI from Maris' total.
Seymour Siwoff, president of Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician for Major League Baseball, said: "I'd need authority from the commissioner's office or the league to change the Book of Baseball Records, which lists the RBI leaders year by year. We can't just do it arbitrarily."
Rich Levin, a spokesman for the commissioner's office, said that "at an appropriate time we might take a look at it," although baseball would be reluctant to change official scorers' reports, because they're just that -- official.
"But if there's an injustice, we may make a change," Levin said.
AL spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige said, "If it's brought to us on an official basis and it's a legitimate claim, we would take it to the scoring rules committee."
Rakowski, a baseball research hobbyist, said he focused on 1961 because he "loved" Maris and Mickey Mantle when he was a youngster. He was 10 when the two Yankees made their charge at Ruth's home run record in 1961.
"I've got nine sources for that one game," Rakowski said. "The third base umpire waved Kubek home on Phillips' error, so it wasn't an RBI. Gentile was robbed of his share of the RBI title."
Jim Polhamus, a SABR member from Fallston, said that the commissioner's office has reviewed requests to correct records that were mistakenly credited to players.
Baseball officials have rejected some and agreed to others. "When Napoleon Lajoie's hits total in 1901 proved to be higher after a mistake in addition was caught, giving him a higher average, a committee did accept that," Polhamus said.
Siwoff said he considers it "flattering to baseball" that it can command such interest in a statistic. Despite strikes and obscene salaries, he said, the game's romance is still there.