Sports

Roger Maris’ $5,000 advice to Sal Durante, who caught his 61st homer

Sal Durante was 19 years old in 1961 when he caught Roger Maris’ record-breaking 61st home run ball, and it was an experience he cherished for 60 years.

Durante was with his girlfriend, Rosemarie, who would become his wife, on a double date in the right field bleachers for Yankees-Red Sox — and she paid for the tickets.

“I was broke at the time, and Rosemarie loaned me $10 so I could buy four tickets at $2.50 each,” Durante explained to the Seattle Times in 2016. “Rosemarie never let me forget the loan.”

With Aaron Judge looking certain to pass Maris’ mark — which many baseball fans and media consider to be the true single-season home run record, given the PED usage in which Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were implicated — the magical 1961 season is getting revisited from every angle.

“I heard the crack of the bat and saw it headed toward the right-field bleachers where we were sitting,” Durante said in 2016. “I jumped up on my seat and stretched as high as I could, and the ball slammed into the palm of my bare hand.”

Sal Durante holds up Roger Maris' 61st home run ball on the 50th anniversary in 2011.
Sal Durante holds up Roger Maris’ 61st home run ball on the 50th anniversary in 2011.
Getty Images

Red Barber, calling the game on WPIX, implied that the lucky fan who caught the ball would receive $5,000.

Durante was happy to return the ball and receive nothing but a “thank you” from Maris in return. Instead, he recalled Maris telling him, “Keep it, kid. Put it up for auction. Somebody will pay you a lot of money for the ball. He’ll keep it for a couple of days and then give it to me.”

That somebody was California restaurateur Sam Gordon, who did just that.

Sal Durante and Roger Maris in 1961.
Sal Durante and Roger Maris in 1961.
Diamond Images/Getty Images

According to the CPI calculator, which measures the tides of inflation, the $5,000 Durante received in 1961 is the equivalent of nearly $50,000 today. It’s hard fathom what the ball would fetch in an auction today.

Durante was a Brooklyn-based truck driver at the time he caught the ball; he would later drive a school bus for 30 years until his retirement at the age of 62. About 20 years ago, Sal and Rosemarie moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

Rosemarie passed about eight years ago. As of the past several months, Durante, now 80, is hospitalized and suffering from dementia, his son, Tom, a 58-year-old New York City real estate broker, informed The Post.

Sal Durante received $5,000 for Roger Maris' 61st home run ball.
Sal Durante received $5,000 for Roger Maris’ 61st home run ball.
Diamond Images/Getty Images

“He still had — and still has — all his pictures of him and Maris through the house. He would talk about it,” the son said. “If we asked questions about it until recently, he would have known the answers. About one-and-half months ago, his mind completely shut off.”

The memorabilia Durante held onto included a ticket stub signed by Maris from that day, Maris’ own Zippo lighter that the two both used to light cigarettes in the locker room and a ball signed by Maris, Durante and Tracy Stallard, the Red Sox pitcher who gave up the home run.

“He had a nice run with this,” Tom Durante, the son, said. “In 1976, when they opened up the new-old Yankee Stadium, he threw out the first ball to Graig Nettles. Then at the 25th anniversary, they invited him up there with my mom. Then on the 50th anniversary he brought out the ball — that is now in the Hall of Fame — to the Maris family.”

Leave a Comment