One of the most famous catches in baseball history wasn’t made by a player.
It happened nearly 55 years ago at Yankee Stadium. Sal Durante, a 19-year-old fan, was seated in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, October 1, 1961 when Roger Maris stepped in to face Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard. Sitting on 60 home runs for the season and no more games on the schedule, Maris dug in. It was last-minute decision to go to the ballpark that day but his girlfriend had the money for tickets and Durante wanted to be there if Maris could topple Babe Ruth’s record. Maybe, just maybe, Maris would hit the ball near him.
Durante had played ball before and he knew that long fly ball was going to come down within his reach. He quickly climbed on top the seat and reached up just as the ball smacked into his palm. The impact sent him reeling but he hung onto the ball. The single-season home run mark now belonged to Roger Maris and the baseball belonged to a kid from New York.
The RMY Auctions Photo of the Day captures what happened after the final out that day. All smiles, Durante met Maris and offered him the history-making ball. Maris demurred, telling him to sell it to the Sacramento, CA restaurant owner who’d promised $5,000 to the person who could hand it to him. The photo is well-known, but original wirephotos from the time period are not easy to find. The 8×10 image is among the featured attractions in RMY’s June auction, which closes Saturday.
Durante did marry Rosemarie Calabrese and they honeymooned in California, enjoying the proceeds from the baseball. The restaurateur, Sam Gordon, handed over the money and enjoyed the publicity he received for making the offer. Eventually, Gordon turned it over to Maris but Durante’s catch remains a part of Yankee lore and he’s still asked to recount the memories of that Sunday and the attention he received afterward.
Sal Durante worked as a school bus driver for nearly 30 years. He and his wife stayed together for 53 years until her death in 2014. They raised three sons and had six grandchildren.