FARGO, N.D. – An ornate prize belt that has been awarded to some of America's top professional athletes was stolen early Tuesday from the Roger Maris Museum inside a North Dakota shopping mall.
Police say a burglar smashed a glass display case holding the Hickok Belt, which since 1950 has been awarded to athletes including Muhammed Ali, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax and Ben Hogan. Maris, who grew up in Fargo, won the belt in 1961 after he hit a then-record 61 home runs for the New York Yankees.
Police said the investigation was ongoing and determined later in the day that Maris' 1960 American League Most Valuable Player plaque also was missing.
Chris Heaton, property manager of West Acres Mall, which houses the Roger Maris Museum, said he was "deeply disturbed" by the incident.
"We feel violated this morning, and I'm sure many others in the community do as well, that something was stolen from Fargo's favorite son, Roger Maris," Heaton said.
Heaton said the leather belt has a look similar to those awarded to boxing champions. The original belts included a 4 1/3-carat diamond and an 18-carat gold buckle. It is worth between $90,000 and $140,000, according to the website.
"We obviously consider everything in this case to be priceless," Heaton said.
The incident happened about 2:50 a.m. Tuesday. Fargo Deputy Police Chief Joe Anderson said surveillance video shows a man dressed in dark clothing breaking out a glass entry door on the mall's southeast side and heading directly to the display, about 100 feet from the door. The thief headed outside immediately after nabbing the belt and jumped into the passenger side of a vehicle.
Heaton said security personnel at the mall arrived at the display two minutes after an alarm went off.
"Obviously, the amount of time that they were in and out would lead us to believe they knew what they were looking for," Anderson said. "As far as their motive and what they plan on doing with that item, that will have to be determined through the course of the investigation."
The Hickok Belt was first awarded by the Rochester Press-Radio Club in 1950 to New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Arnold Palmer won it the year before Maris. The award was discontinued in 1976 and revived in 2013, when LeBron James was honored by sports writers.
Heaton said most of the items in the 32-year-old Fargo museum, including the belt, are on loan from Maris family members, who return to Fargo every summer for a charity golf tournament started by their father. Maris died in 1985 and is buried in Fargo.
"True to Roger's wishes, the museum is visible, accessible and free," Heaton said. "And it speaks to the great amount of respect the people have for Roger Maris that this is the first security incident we've had in 32 years."