Born in Hibbing, Minnesota, Maris grew up in Fargo, North Dakota and made his Major League Baseball debut in 1957 with the Cleveland Indians. The next year, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics, whom he represented in the All-Star game in 1959 in spite of missing 45 games to an appendix operation.
Kansas City usually traded its best players to the New York Yankees, and Maris was no exception, going to New York in a seven-player trade in December 1959.
Although Maris is generally only remembered for his record-breaking 1961 season, in 1960, his first season with the Yankees, he led the league in slugging percentage, RBIs and extra base hits and finished second in home runs and total bases, won a gold glove, and won the American League MVP award.
In 1961, Maris found himself chasing Ruth's record along with popular teammate Mickey Mantle. Unlike McGwire and Sosa after him, Maris was ostracized. In the middle of the season, Baseball commissioner Ford Frick announced that unless Ruth's record was broken in the first 154 games of the season, the statistic would bear an asterisk. Maris hit his 61st on October 1, 1961, the last game of the season. The asterisk was later removed, but Maris remained bitter. Speaking at the 1980 All-Star game, Maris said of that season, "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing."
In 1962, Maris made his fourth consecutive and final All-Star game appearance. It was his last great season. Injuries slowed him for the next four seasons, most notably in 1965, when he played most of the season with a misdiagnosed broken bone in his hand. The Yankees traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 1966 season. The Yankees questioned Maris' courage and Maris left angry.
Maris played two final seasons with the Cardinals, helping them to two pennants in 1967 and 1968 and a World Series victory in 1967 (he hit .385 in the post-season). Gussie Busch, owner of the Cardinals and of Anheuser-Busch, set Maris up with a beer distributorship after he retired.