In the winter of 1956, my grandfather Babe Dahlgren wrote a letter to Ray Kennedy asking for a job. Kennedy was the director of player personnel for the Kansas City Athletics. The club was expanding their scouting program and Hank Peters, the Athletics farm director subsequently hired Babe to cover the West Coast. Part of his responsibilities included scouting major league spring training camps in Arizona.
Babe liked to distance himself from the other scouts, preferring to sit alone; not wanting to discuss players he was interested in. He used to tell me that he wanted a young player to “wake him up” and once they did, he’d hone in on their every move.
There was one particular spring day in 1957 while watching the Cleveland Indians prepare for a doubleheader against the Giants that a young kid stood out. There was something about his quiet demeanor and powerful left-handed swing that reminded Babe of a former teammate named Lou Gehrig. After taking his swings on the field, the kid ran out to right field to shag. That’s when Babe got up from his seat and approached Indians manager, Kerby Farrell.
“Who’s the kid in right field?” Babe asked.
“Roger Maris,” Farrell replied. “He played for me last year in Indianapolis. He’s the only one out there I’m not sure of in the starting line-up. What do you think of him?”
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen him, but if I were in your shoes he’d be the one guy sure of a job.”
Babe watched Roger with a keen eye that afternoon during an exhibition game. Later, when he returned to his motel room, he penned a letter to Parke Carroll, vice president of the Athletics alerting him of the young outfielder and how his status on the Cleveland ball club was uncertain. He stressed that if a deal could be made for him, to do it.
Roger Maris finished his rookie season in 1957 with 14 home runs and hit .235.
As for Babe, he asked for a raise after the 1957 season and his contract with the Athletics wasn’t renewed.
Within a year of Babe tipping-off Parke Carroll, a deal was made. On June 15, 1958, the Athletics traded Woodie Held and Vic Power to the Indians in exchange for Roger Maris, Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward. In the remaining 99 games with his new team, Maris hit 19 home runs finishing the season with 28. He was only 23 years old.
While Maris did make the All-Star team the following season in 1959, his power production slipped. He finished the season with 16 home runs and 72 RBI’s. The Athletics gave up on Maris way too soon. In December of 1959, he was part of a package deal that sent him to the New York Yankees in exchange for Hank Bauer and Don Larsen.
Upon hearing the news of the trade, Babe wired George Weiss, general manager of the Yankees congratulating him on the deal stating he felt the Yankees had just won several championships by obtaining Maris. He also predicted that Maris could hit between 60-70 home runs in a season. Unfortunately, all of Babe’s correspondence burned when he lost his home in a fire in 1980. However, in a feature about Babe that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on September 3, 1961, the historic season that Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record, the writer included the correspondence that Babe had produced in the form of a carbon copy.
Babe was right! The Yankees went on to win the American League pennant the next five seasons. And that kid in right field became a legend.