“I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” Stallard said after the game, in which he pitched the first seven innings in a 1-0 Yankee victory. “I’d rather he hit the homer off me than I walk him.”
Stallard turned 61 in the summer of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were en route to breaking Maris’s record — albeit in what came to be known as baseball’s steroid era, which tarnished their achievements.
“I don’t mind talking about it,” Stallard said of his fateful pitch in an interview with The New York Times from his Virginia home that September. “I don’t have any shame at all. I lost the game, 1-0, and I didn’t feel anything about it. People are always trying to read something into it. But it has never bothered me to talk about it.”
Stallard noted how he had challenged Maris instead of keeping the ball off the plate. “I went one-on-one, just like these guys are doing with McGwire and Sosa,” he said. “It just put you behind, 1-0, and you’re trying to win the ball game.”
That would not be the only time Stallard was bested in a historic baseball moment. He was the starting and losing pitcher for the Mets in the first game of a Father’s Day 1964 doubleheader at Shea Stadium when the Philadelphia Phillies’ Jim Bunning threw a perfect game.
Evart Tracy Stallard, one of three children of Artice Stallard and the former Thelma Richardson, was born on Aug. 31, 1937, in Coeburn, Va., a coal town.
He became a star pitcher in high school and was signed by the Red Sox in 1956.
He made his major league debut in 1960, pitching in four games for the Red Sox. He had a 2-6 record as a starter and reliever in 1961 when he faced a Yankee team preparing to meet the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series (which the Yankees won).
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A season in which Maris and his teammate Mickey Mantle were both approaching Ruth’s record, a duel that brought national attention (Mantle would settle for 54 homers when a cold and an injury kept him out for much of the late going), was coming to a climax.
A crowd of only 23,154 was on hand, perhaps an expression of dampened anticipation after Commissioner Ford Frick had decreed that summer that because Ruth hit his 60 in a 154-game season, a new record set in the last days of the current 162-game season would come with a notation.
Still, excitement was in the air.
In the aftermath of that epic afternoon, Stallard spent most of the 1962 season in the Red Sox farm system. He was traded to the woeful Mets after that, had a 6-17 record in 1963 and a 10-20 mark in 1964, then was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals.
He had his best major league season in 1965, going 11-8 with a 3.38 earned run average, mostly as a starter. But he pitched only one more season for the Cards, went back to the minors and retired with 30-57 career record.
After leaving baseball, Stallard owned a coal business and worked for a construction company and became friendly with Maris, who died of cancer at 51 in 1985.
Stallard’s survivors include a son, Greg; a sister, Madge Pope; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
On the 30th anniversary of Maris’s 61st home run, Stallard told the Long Island newspaper Newsday, “I’m glad it happened.”
“I’m happy for Roger and I’m happy for me,” he said. “If it weren’t for that home run, it would be like I was buried in one of those coal mines out here. You’d never hear about me.”