One thesaurus describes “nth degree” as “the last or greatest digital assignment in a series of increasingly higher numbers.” If there’s a better way to explain Andy Strasberg’s lifelong fandom relationship with former great ballplayer Roger Maris and now, his ghost, I cannot find it outside my copy of the Psychiatric and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The difference between Andy Strasberg and the multitude of “over-the-top” hero stalkers is that Andy never lost that last important sense of boundary that kept telling him, “no matter how much Roger Maris meant to me as a young kid baseball fan from the Bronx, the man has a life and a family of his own, and I have no right to intrude upon their space, if I am not asked. For good measure too, throw in the facts that Andy also had a loving supportive original family, a normal trek through a college degree from Akron University, a 22-year career as an employee of the San Diego Padres, and a long, apparently happy marriage of his own before he even went out to establish and run a successful consulting company.
The guy just touched too many healthy bases to be written off as a nut job. On the other hand, on the magical side of things, Andy Strasberg has had one incredible life as “the” super-fan of former Yankee great Roger Maris – and, last night, Andy Strasberg of SABR and San Diego was in Houston to speak to our Houston SABR chapter about his amazing personal experience at a meeting held in the activities room at Cort Furniture on Richmond at Bering. Forty-two local SABR members and guests were in attendance.
Andy Strasberg of the Bronx was 12 years old when Roger Maris came over to the Yankees in a trade with Kansas City in 1960. Andy soon picked up on a news story from spring training that described Maris as having a “rejuvenating” effect on the Yankees, a club that had lost the 1959 pennant to the White Sox, of all teams. “I didn’t even know what ‘rejuvenating’ meant at the time, but I was prepared to accept Roger Maris as my hero by the time he got to New York.
For whatever reason, Andy had never been a Mickey Mantle fan. Roger Maris was destined to become his one and only baseball hero.
As he could get there, Andy started going to more and more Yankee games, and congregating with other kids to greet the Yankees before and after games. Andy used the time to send signed written notes of support and opinion to Roger Maris. Over time, Roger Maris came to recognize the persistent young man for who he was and their ongoing friendship grew from there. Over time, Andy worked up the courage to ask for a souvenir baseball, and then a bat, and even the joint photo featured here, taken in 1966, when Andy was 16.
When the Yankees dealt Maris to the Cardinals in 1967, Andy hit his all time low. In so many words, he said it felt like the end of the world, but he never lost his perspective. He had high school to finish and college to reach – and his own life to live.
Andy went off to Akron University and shared a dorm room with a guy who put up a giant poster of Raquel Welch from the movie “One Million BC,” the view of Raquel standing triumphantly on the mountainside at the dawn of civilization.
Andy had a poster of Roger Maris on his wall of the dorm room. He now says, tongue-in-cheek, “I can’t imagine to this day what my roomie got out of having that picture of Raquel Welch on the wall!”
Strasberg’s poster became the cornerstone on his freshman brag stories about his “good friend,” Roger Maris. By the 1968 season, Andy says that his college friends were ready to put those words to a test. With the Cardinals coming to Pittsburgh for a weekend series with the Pirates, the friends suggested they make the under two hours trip there from Akron to see a game – and give Andy a chance to introduce them to his “good friend.” Any gulped, a little, but he agreed to the challenge.
The short of it is that Roger Maris did remember Andy Strasberg. “Andy,” Roger called out from the field in response to a grandstand shout from Strasberg, “what are you doing in Pittsburgh?”
Andy regaled in the moment of introducing his friends, but before the day was done, he would own even more magic to take home with him from that day. During the game, Roger Maris hit a home run – and Andy Strasberg was the fan in the stands who caught it. What are the odds on that one?
The years rolled on and the relationship grew. Andy and his wife began to socialize with Roger and Pat Maris. Then the worst came hard. Roger Maris died of cancer while he was under treatment here in Houston at MD Anderson on December 14, 1985.
Andy Strasberg flew from San Diego to Fargo, South Dakota for the funeral. He has since become an almost ex officio member of the Maris family and now enjoys close ties also with Roger’s adult children.
When Bill Crystal started production for the 2001 movie 61* n the late 1990s, Andy Strasberg was retained as a technical advisor, even ending up with a small acting part as the only fan who runs on the field to shake Roger Maris’s hand after his 61st home run broke Babe Rut;s single season mark in 1961.
You do not meet people like Andy Strasberg every day. Well, maybe you do and they’re just not talking about it so much. It’s still unlikely you will meet many who have converted a fan brush with fame into the overriding factor in their lives, as has Andy Strasberg. Today Andy is also busy in support of charity events sponsored in Roger Maris’s memory for the support of cancer research and treatment.
I caught the above picture of Andy Strasberg at the end of the evening. I simply asked him to give us his best Raquel Welch pose. Those of you who couldn’t make it missed a fine and most entertaining evening, one that also came with some DVD clips that Andy used to help dramatize the wonderful story of his love and appreciation for Roger Maris.
Thanks to fellow SABR member Mike McCroskey, here’s a website link that pretty well covers the same ground Andy Strasberg traveled in his fascinating talk to our Larry Dierker Houston Chapter last night:
As for other meeting activity from last night, the trivia quiz prepared by Mark Wernick was a nettlesome mind-twister, but it was won by Scott Barzilla and Greg Lucas.
Other meeting notes: (1) SABR needs volunteers to help with our research project: “Houston Baseball, the First 100 Years, 1861-1961;” (2) Our next monthly SABR meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 29th, and our speaker will be Astros broadcaster and fellow SABR member Bill Brown.