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MLB umpire from Utica was witness to Roger Maris' historic homer

Lou Parrotta
Sentinel columnist
Posted 10/1/22

In 1961, New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris made history when he hit his 61st home run to eclipse Babe Ruth’s Major League record.

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MLB umpire from Utica was witness to Roger Maris' historic homer

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In 1961, New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris made history when he hit his 61st home run to eclipse Babe Ruth’s Major League record. Sixty-one years later, another Yankees masher, Aaron Judge, tied Maris when he hit his 61st. While not the Major League record today, it is the American League’s single-season one.

When Maris hit his record-setting bomb, the third base umpire was Alexander Joseph “Bobey” Salerno. Salerno, a native Utican who was a standout ballplayer at Thomas R. Proctor High School and in the American Legion, Salerno was officiating in just his sixth contest.

Salerno was born on March 13, 1931 in Utica and graduated from Proctor in 1949. That season, his combined high school and American Legion squads went 39-1 with Salerno leading the way. The Red Sox signed with the Boston Red Sox upon graduation, and in 1950 played for the Marion Red Sox in the Ohio-Indiana League. He spent the 1951 season in Marion too, but the Army drafted him to fight in the Korean conflict. While serving, he injured his shoulder in a truck accident and that ultimately ended his pitching career. He tried a comeback upon his discharge with the 1954 Olean Giants, but the team released him.

After a quick stint with the New York State police, Salerno, who was often umpiring local games, entered umpiring school in Florida. He graduated number one in the class. In 1957, Salerno began a meteoric rise to the Majors with stops in the Pioneer League, the Eastern League and the Pacific Coast League before getting the call to the American League in late 1961. That call garnered him a front row seat to history.

Salerno spent seven years as a Major League umpire. Selected to the crew that officiated the 1964 All-Star game, Salerno was widely considered one of the better arbiters of the game. Despite his solid reputation, near the end of the 1968 season American League President Joe Cronin called Salerno and abruptly fired him. Cronin asserted that Salerno and another umpire, Bill Valentine, were incompetent and should not be on a Major League diamond.

Salerno, while perplexed on the league president’s decision, eventually decided the reason for his dismissal was the fact he met with the already unionized National League umpire association a few days prior to his firing. After his meeting, he sent word to all 20 American League umpires that a vote to unionize would be forthcoming. Salerno was sure his firing was because Cronin got wind of the meeting and feared the junior circuit would form a union.

While Cronin dismissed the idea he knew about Salerno’s plans, the dismissal stuck. After the 1968 season, the American League umpires did unionize. The new union took up Salerno’s appeal. Despite several efforts to work out a compromise, one that would benefit Salerno (and Valentine) while allowing Cronin to save face, Salerno never returned to the ballfield.

Salerno felt baseball wronged him, and he filed a $4 million lawsuit. He did not win the case, lost a lot of money fighting for what he felt was justice, and died truly feeling that the justice system failed him. A great baseball man gave everything up to make life better for the men in blue on the American League’s diamond.

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