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Roger Maris Loses 1961 RBI Crown, Wins Runs Scored Title

Ambrose Bierce once wrote, "God alone knows the future, but only an historian can alter the past." And that's just what has happened in baseball history with the report that analysis of the 1961 box-scores has shown Roger Maris was credited with a ghost RBI in a game that year, while Mickey Mantle also got an extra run on his total. The changes drop Maris into a tie with Jim Gentiel for the 1961 AL RBI crown, but give him sole possession of the Runs Scored title.

According to Lyle Spatz, chairman of the SABR Records Committee, the Maris error occurred after he singled with a runner on first; the right-fielder threw to third, but his throw went into the stands. The umpires sent the runner home and Maris to third - an unearned run with no RBI. Maris later hit a solo homer, but the official scorer reported two RBI for him to the league office. In Mantle's case, he was credited with a run that should have gone to Bill Skowron.

Researcher Ron Rakowski was the first to discover the error. He went over the box scores, official records and score sheets from teams and sportswriters for every game that year - either very impressive, or incredibly stats-geeky, I'm not sure which. Probably both. That was back in 1995, but the wheels turn slowly, and it was only recently it became canon, with sources such as Baseball-Reference.com and the Elias Sports Bureau recognizing the new numbers.

It's strange to conceive of the official scorer making such a gaffe these days, or that any error would remain uncorrected for almost fifty years. Things were clearly different in baseball's earlier days - for instance, there is still doubt over whether Ty Cobb had 4,189 hits or 4,192. But the painstaking attention to detail shown by Rakowski, is a marvelous example of one of the things that makes this sport and its fans great.