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I tend to like museums like the Roger Maris Museum that are devoted to one person. They usually fly under the radar and reflect local civic pride honoring a native son or daughter. The Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bike Museum that I visited in Sparta, Wisconsin comes to mind. As far as I know it’s the only museum in the world dedicated to a NASA astronaut and bicycles. Who knew they had so much in common? (Although I am impressed by whoever came up with the name for the “Rockets & Sprockets” gift shop inside.)
Often the exhibits have the sort of homespun memorabilia and little known facts that aren’t found in larger museums. Thus with a high degree of anticipation I sought out the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.
At first I couldn’t find it. I double checked the address and instead of a museum all I could see was the West Acres Shopping Center, a large regional mall. In Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania I came across a mall that has the aptly named “Church on the Mall” so I finally realized that the museum was actually in the mall; somewhere among the shops and kiosks selling personalized coffee mugs and tutti-frutti yogurt. I went inside and there it was, occupying a prime corner piece of real estate between Spencer Gifts and Tip Top Tux.
The tagline for the museum is “A permanent shrine to a reluctant hero.” Maris was a soft-spoken player who didn’t let his fame get to his head. He only agreed to the museum if it was placed in his hometown of Fargo, was free and was at a site where the greatest number of people could see it; and that’s how the museum dedicated to the man who broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record ended up at a suburban North Dakota shopping mall.
For being in a mall the exhibit is well done. Maris donated every major piece of memorabilia he had. On display are his two MVP awards (that’s right his record shattering year wasn’t some flash in the pan, he won the MVP in 1960 as well) and various uniforms, bats and home run balls from throughout his career. A little nook off to the side has seats from the original Yankee Stadium where you can sit and watch a grainy newsreel highlighting Maris’ career.
His single season home run record was later broken several times by players who could only do so because they were puffed up on steroids. Reflecting on Maris’ accomplishments made me realize that he should be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I’m not saying that just because when I was a chubby little kid he gave me his autograph. Although it didn’t hurt.
Here’s a link to the Roger Maris Museum. Next time you’re in Fargo check it out.