There is an update tonight on the George Strickland front. The Common Man was contacted a short time ago by Danny Peary, who has teamed with Tom Clavin to write a forthcoming biography of Roger Maris. In the course of their research, Peary talked with Strickland about his year-long absence. While Strickland was not specific about the reasons for his sabbatical, he did indicate that his own mental state was not right to play ball in 1958. Peary quotes Strickland as saying, “I had some problems here in home. I had to get my head straight and on my shoulders. Whatever the problems were, I said I think I would feel better if I would take [time off] and don’t do [play this year]….I said I’m going to be out for this year….They didn’t think it was anything mental with me so to speak. But that was… there was some things that had come up.”
So at this point, we’ve got conflicting evidence. Strickland’s explanation passes the smell test, particularly given his struggles with his performance and his playing time. He may have been angry or depressed or have had other difficulties that we can’t begin to speculate about. He does not mention having anything lined up for himself back in New Orleans, as the Toledo Blade suggested. However, it would not have been beyond the pale for a baseball writer to invent or embellish a cover story to help a player’s image back in that era.
So I guess we end where we started, with little specific information, but a few clues that point to an extremely unsatisfied George Strickland in 1958 deciding not to play ball. Strickland's struggles are a good reminder that, no matter how larger than life baseball players seem (or how hilarious their Twitter feeds are), they are decidedly human, and face many of the same struggles to balance professional responsibilities, family life, and personal fulfillment as anyone else.
The Common Man would like to thank Danny Peary and his co-author, Tom Clavin for giving him access to their interview notes, and encourage you to check out their book, Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero, which is scheduled to be published in hardcover and on Kindle on March 16. Larry King has described it as “a remarkable work that belongs in every baseball fan's house,” while Tim McCarver praises the book as “a splendid portrait of the Roger Maris I knew very well and the Roger Maris I wish I knew better.”