Posted by Sean Forman on July 27, 2010
Lyle Spatz, chair of the SABR Records Committee has allowed me to reprint this note that he wrote about the recently made changes to Maris and Mantle's 1961 season totals.
We'll have more to say on this in the future, but the basic gist of our policy when making changes of this is that our main desire is to present history accurately. Baseball stats and how they have been collected are inherently fallible. When there is very strong evidence that a change should be made. We will make the change. Please read Lyle's note below to gain some insight how this process works.
1961: ROGER MARIS, MICKEY MANTLE, AND JIM GENTILE: AT LONG LAST A RECKONING
Fifteen years ago, in the April 1995 newsletter, I ran an article detailing Ron Rakowski’s discovery that Roger Maris was mistakenly credited with an extra run batted in 1961. This was extremely significant because Maris won the RBI championship that season by one over Jim Gentile, 142 to 141. Rocky Colavito had 140.
Working with Retrosheet, Rakowski analyzed newspaper accounts and box scores for every game that year, along with the official daily records and score sheets that he obtained from various teams and sportswriters.
The error occurred on July 5 in a game against Cleveland at Yankee Stadium. Tony Kubek (who had struck out but reached when John Romano couldn't hold the third strike) was at first with no one out when Maris singled to right. Right fielder Willie Kirkland threw to third baseman Bubba Phillips in an unsuccessful attempt to get Kubek at third. Phillips then tried to catch Maris who had rounded first, but his throw went into the seats. The umpires waved Kubek home and sent Maris to third. It was an unearned run with no RBI given. Maris later hit a solo homer in the seventh, but the official scorer reported two RBI's to the league office.
The following sources show Maris with just one RBI on July 5, 1961: The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The New York Journal American, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Sporting News. Also play-by-play sheets from the Indians and Yankees and score sheets from Dick Young of the Daily News and Harold Rosenthal of the New York Herald Tribune.
Ron also discovered that Mickey Mantle was incorrectly credited with a run scored that same year. Ron's first discovery meant that Maris now shares the 1961 RBI lead with Baltimore's Jim Gentile, each with 141. However, his newest find makes Maris the league leader in runs scored with 132. He had been tied with Mantle.
Ron discovered the error occurred in the second game of a doubleheader against Cleveland at Yankee Stadium on September 10. Mantle's "official sheet" shows him with two runs scored in this game, when he actually scored only one--a third inning solo home run. In his other three at bats, Mantle walked in the first (left stranded at third base), struck out in the fifth, and grounded to third in the seventh. The run mistakenly given to Mantle actually belongs to Bill Skowron, whom the "official sheet" shows with no runs-scored. Skowron singled in the sixth inning, and scored on Clete Boyer's double.
Ron confirmed the above by checking the score sheets of New York sportswriters, Dick Young, Phil Pepe and Leonard Koppett, as well as the Yankees' team scores sheet and the.. Associated Press.. box score. As a result, give Mantle 131 runs-scored in 1961 and Skowron gets 77.
I am pleased to see that Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Almanac, and the Elias Sports Bureau all recognize these numbers.
I know there are people who object to these types of corrections, even when they are done to rectify an obvious error such as a faulty computation or putting a number in a wrong column. This is especially true when the correction changes a league leader in a particular category. For those of you that do (I hope there aren't too many on the Records Committee) let me restate an obvious truth. Mickey Mantle was one of the game's great players. Does finishing his career with 1,676 runs scored rather than 1,677 make him any less a great player. Will anybody's assessment of Mantle's place in history be changed by the fact that he did not lead the league in runs scored in 1961? I don't think so.
We should try to get the numbers as accurate as we can, but we must also, as Neil Postman, a Professor at NYU and critic of technology run wild, said, "free ourselves from the belief in the power of numbers and not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth."
Lyle Spatz, Chairman SABR Baseball Records Committee