RIP Sal Durante, the Yankees’ fan who caught Roger Maris’ 61st homer ball

Sal Durante
Sara Molnick
Monday December 5, 2022

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Sal Durante, the eternal Yankees fan, has died at the age of 80. He was famous for catching Roger Maris‘ 61st home run ball at Yankee Stadium in 1961.

Roger Maris Jr. shared the news on Twitter on Friday.

“Sal Durante the guy who caught my dad’s 61st home run died last night. Sal was such a gentleman and loved his Yankees. Sal and my dad will always be connected to each other because of that historic day on October 1, 1961. Condolences to the Durante family from the Maris Family.”

On that fateful day in 1961, Sal Durante and his future wife, Rosemarie, were on a double date at the old Yankee Stadium. They were on the right-field bleachers to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox on that glorious day.

“I heard the crack of the bat and saw it heading for the right-field bleachers, where we were sitting,” Sal Durante narrated during a 2016 interview with The Seattle Times. “I jumped out of my seat and reached as high as I could, and the ball hit me in the palm of my hand.”

At the time, Durante was a 19-year-old truck driver from Brooklyn. He later became a New York City school bus driver. About eight years ago, Rosemarie died.

Maris’s 61 home runs were the most in the major leagues until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit 73 home runs in 1998 and Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001. Many people thought Maris was the true record-holder until Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs this past season.

Durante met Maris in the Yankees‘ locker room after catching the ball. He was ready to give it back to the power hitter. But Maris told Durante to keep it and sell it. Durante would have been happy to give it to the home run hitter.

“Keep it, kid. “Put it up for auction,” Maris told Durante, “If you sell the ball, someone will give you a lot of money. He’ll hold on to it for a few days and then give it to me.”

Sam Gordon, a restaurant owner in California, bought the ball from Durante for $5,000, which is about $50,000 in today’s money. The ball ended up in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.

In September, when Judge was trying to beat Maris’ record in the American League, The New York Post talked to Durante’s son, Tom, who said that his father, who was 80 at the time, had dementia.

“He still had all the pictures of him and Maris, and he still has them all over the house. Tom Durante told, “He would talk about it; up until recently, he would have known the answers if we had asked him about it. About 1.5 months ago, he stopped thinking at all.”

“He had a nice run with this,” Tom continued, “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.”

(Source credit: The New York Post)

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