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Maris record setting bat, ball return to Fargo

FARGO — Brad Horn spoke as though he was a mixture of Indiana Jones with the Ark of the Covenant in his grasp and a secret service agent guarding the president.

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“Due to the artifact and my safety, I can’t comment on too many details,” Horn said. “I’m going to be vague to protect the artifacts as well as myself.”

All evidence points to Horn neither being a secret service agent nor Indiana Jones. He is the vice president of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

And he was the man who brought home the bat Fargo native Roger Maris used to hit his 61st home run and the ball Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard delivered to the plate only to see it disappear over the right-field fence. That came on Oct. 1 in the fourth inning of the last game of the 1961 season.

Since the bat and ball were donated to the Hall of Fame in 1973, they have left Cooperstown, N.Y., just once: In 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were locked in a home run race to beat the record. Today, they are both in Fargo.

“It is extraordinarily rare for us to travel artifacts,” Horn said. “This is not something that happens monthly. This is not something that even happens annually. The uniqueness of this situation is something that is only when the reason is significant enough for us to feel comfortable by having these artifacts leave Cooperstown.”

The decision by the six board members of the Hall of Fame to allow the bat and ball to travel was made in late winter, but the story goes back to 1967 with Andy Strasberg, who is considered Maris’ No. 1 fan.

“I was 18 years old and I just knocked on somebody’s door, (former director of the Hall of Fame) Howard Talbot, and started telling him that I love baseball and that someday I would work in baseball,” Strasberg said. “With each passing year I would always make a trip to Cooperstown and I’d have the place to myself. I did that for a number of years, and at one particular point in 1971, I made the request if I could have my picture taken with Roger’s bat as well as the ball.”

Wish granted.

Four years later, Strasberg began working in the marketing department of the San Diego Padres, where he remained until 1996. He continued his relationship with the Hall of Fame.

“I just kept the relationship up with the guys at the Hall of Fame because to me that is the spiritual center of the baseball universe and the artifacts that go along with the greatness of baseball,” Strasberg said.

Strasberg had been looking at the old picture of him with the Maris bat and ball recently before posing the question to Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson: Could Fargo have the bat and ball for a day or two?

Another wish was granted for Strasberg, and he hopes it will grant wishes for others.

“I figure that there is a 15-year-old kid, who lives in Fargo or Moorhead or someplace close by that loves baseball, but will never get a chance to go to Cooperstown,” Strasberg said. “Maybe there’s a dozen of those 15-year-old kids. Maybe there are 100 people. I’m hoping that it resonates with one person in a very special way so 20 years from now or 50 years from now that person can tell the story how the national baseball Hall of Fame generously flew those two artifacts to Fargo, North Dakota.”

The bat and ball already have a story. As for the story as to if they flew first class, what hotel they are staying at, do they automatically get to ride shotgun in any car ride … that’s classified.

“I don’t want to go much beyond that because I don’t want to pose a security risk to myself or provide any other information that would jeopardize our ability to safely protect our collection because that is the utmost concern for us when we take artifacts outside of Cooperstown,” Horn said.

The bat and ball will be on display today from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the auction of the Roger Maris Celebrity Benefit Golf Tournament at the Holiday Inn in Fargo. It will also be at today’s banquet.

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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