During the autumn of 1961 I was in Sal's every two weeks or so. Haircuts were short and required maintenance. They all cost the same, a buck seventy-five. They all were the same. In the South Bronx in 1961, every man and boy walked the streets looking like Howdy Doody.

In Sal's, I was not permitted to speak. I was 9 years old, and the floor belonged to men my father's age, men who arrived in topcoats and fedoras. As they got their hair cut, they smoked cigars with the bands still on. Sal's smelled of Hav-a-Tampas and witch hazel and sour grapes.

All they talked about in that fall of 1961 was the disgraceful thing that was happening day after day a mile or two down the road, in Yankee Stadium. A kid with a sneer on his lip and fear in his eyes was closing in on a record that was 34 years old. Damn record was older than he was. It was The Babe's record. A nobody, chasing Babe Ruth. Like he coulda carried The Babe's jockstrap. Like the pitchers today wasn't all cream puffs. Like there was anyone in the Bigs who could throw like Feller anymore.

Every last one of these men, it seemed, had watched The Babe hit his 60th home run. They all had been at the Stadium to see it. Thirty-four years before.

Sal was Italian. He talked like Chico Marx. His Jewish customers talked like Jackie Mason. His Irish customers talked like leprechauns. These men shared nothing in their lives, but on this issue of Roger Maris's inadequacy, they were in agreement.

Thirty-four years. A record lasts that long, it's supposed to last forever. It's not supposed to be broken by some putz. By some donkey. By some goombah.

To me, 34 years seemed like another epoch, so remote it was unreal. I knew it only from pictures in old baseball books. Uniforms fit like pajamas. Gloves were small and lumpy, as though they were made of modeling clay. The players had bad teeth and stubble. In the fall of 1961, I was a Roger Maris fan, but in Sal's Barber Shop I kept my mouth shut.

I understand now that it was not Maris that these men hated, but the 34 years. Time was crowding them. You look up, and pretty soon 34 years are gone, and The Babe is dead, and what does that make you, going to the same barber shop for the same haircut? With every home run Roger Maris hit, the men in the barber shop suffered a loss. They were grieving for themselves.

On the day that Maris pulled a 2-1 fastball into the right-field bleachers, I was in my back yard, listening to a staticky transistor radio, not quite sure what had happened until Red Barber repeated it twice. I remember running in circles, drunk on the moment, until I collapsed.

The next day was my 10th birthday. I would get a birthday party, and for my party I would get a haircut. For once, I couldn't wait.

These days, when I take my son to the hairstylist, no one talks sports. No one talks at all. The place is too big and too impersonal. Not like in my day.

My son is 11. He humors me, but the truth is he doesn't care much for baseball. He's into Nintendo.

"Into" Nintendo. Listen to me.

I still root for the Yankees, though it's not the same anymore. Players are mercenaries who hop from club to club. You find yourself rooting for a uniform now, not a team. I'll still watch the games, sometimes. Sometimes, I'll be smoking a cigar.

Roger Maris is dead now. When I hear someone say he was a bum, a one-year wonder, it gets me pretty burned. I saw the man play. In person. At the Stadium. He played with heart. His arm was a howitzer.

When was the last time you saw a right fielder throw two men out at home in the same game?

When was the last time you saw someone hit 61 home runs in a season?

I'll tell you when, kid.

Thirty-four years ago today. CAPTION: Maris connects for No. 61.