This paper introduces a statistical estimation framework for magnetic resonance (MR) fingerprinting, a recently proposed quantitative imaging paradigm. Within this framework, we present a maximum likelihood (ML) formalism to estimate multiple MR tissue parameter maps directly from highly undersampled, noisy k-space data. A novel algorithm, based on variable splitting, the alternating direction method of multipliers, and the variable projection method, is developed to solve the resulting optimization problem. Representative results from both simulations and in vivo experiments demonstrate that the proposed approach yields significantly improved accuracy in parameter estimation, compared to the conventional MR fingerprinting reconstruction. Moreover, the proposed framework provides new theoretical insights into the conventional approach. We show analytically that the conventional approach is an approximation to the ML reconstruction; more precisely, it is exactly equivalent to the first iteration of the proposed algorithm for the ML reconstruction, provided that a gridding reconstruction is used as an initialization.