Monday, September 13, 2010

#365 Jim Gentile

#365 Jim Gentile
As an Oriole fan, seeing Diamond Jim in the colors of those dreadful Kansas City Athletics just doesn't seem right.

Fun facts about Jim Gentile:

-Born in San Francisco, Jim signed with Brooklyn right after high school in 1952.

-He hit 208 home runs in seven-plus minor league seasons, but was blocked in the Dodger organization by Gil Hodges. He made it into just 16 games for the big league club in 1957 and 1958.

-The Orioles acquired him prior to the 1960 season. Despite an abysmal spring training, manager Paul Richards showed confidence in the 26-year-old first baseman and took him north. Gentile rewarded the skipper's faith with an All-Star performance (the first of three straight years): .292 average, 21 home runs, and team highs of 98 RBI and a .403 on-base percentage. He received only one vote for A.L. Rookie of the Year, as the electorate was dazzled by teammate Ron Hansen's 22 homers at the more challenging shortstop position.

-His sophomore season was one of the greatest in Baltimore history, and many O's fans have committed the numbers to memory: .302/.423/.646 AVG/OBP/SLG. 46 home runs and a league-best 141 RBI. A record six grand slams (since surpassed by Don Mattingly's seven in 1987 and Travis Hafner's seven in 2006). With his big bat leading the offense, the young Birds remained competitive all year and finished with 95 wins. Of course he was upstaged yet again, as Yankee teammates Roger Maris (61 HR) and Mickey Mantle (54) chased Babe Ruth all year and finished 1-2 in the voting for MVP. Gentile finished a strong third in balloting.

-A note on that league-leading RBI total: At the time, Maris was recognized as the RBI champ with 142. Just recently, statisticians discovered an unearned Yankee run for which an RBI was erroneously awarded to the New York right fielder. Major League Baseball officially recognized Gentile as co-RBI leader this past July, fifty years after the fact. He was invited to an Orioles home game the following week, and in a pregame ceremony GM Andy MacPhail presented him with a $5,000 check - the amount that former O's GM Lee MacPhail (Andy's dad) had once told Jim he had stood to earn as a bonus for the narrowly "missed" RBI crown.

-On May 9, 1961, Jim set a team record with 9 RBI in a 13-5 drubbing of the twins. He hit grand slams in the first and second innings, becoming the third player in MLB history to accomplish this feat in consecutive innings. As with all of his then-record five grand slams that year, Chuck Estrada was the Oriole pitcher who benefited.

-He remained the leading home run hitter for the O's in 1962 (33 HR) and his 24 longballs the following year were one shy of Boog Powell's team lead, but his average plunged over fifty points from the highs of 1961 and he was dealt to the Athletics for Norm Siebern.

-In his only full season in Kansas City, Gentile was a power compliment for Rocky Colavito with the 1964 A's, hitting 28 home runs and knocking in 71. His average stayed in its recent range (.251), but he continued to draw walks (84 BB, .372 OBP).

-He was passed from K.C. to Houston to Cleveland in 1965 and 1966, and saw a drop in playing time and production. He spent the following two years at AAA San Diego before finishing his career in 1969 with Japan's Kintetsu Buffaloes. In parts of nine major league seasons he hit .260 with a .368 on-base percentage, 179 home runs, and 549 RBI.

-Jim tried his hand at managing later in life, helming the unaffiliated Fort Worth Cats in 2001-2002 (he had played minor league ball for a previous incarnation of the Cats) and the also-unaffiliated Mid-Missouri Mavericks in 2004 and 2005. He still lives in California with his wife of 44 years.
#365 Jim Gentile (back)


  1. Hard to believe he played in only 9 ML seasons. I guess that what happens when you are buried in a 'machine' organization like the Dodgers'.

  2. Bob - Even with Roy Campanella lobbying for him (he gave him his nickname in 1958, calling him a "diamond in the rough"), he still couldn't get a break in Brooklyn or LA.

  3. I'm impressed that the O's actually gave him the $5000. Of course, given interest, it should have been a lot more.

  4. Marc - True. Of course, they're probably just taking his word on it, so I guess beggars can't be choosers.

  5. I still can't get used to seeing Athletics in non-green-and-yellow uniforms!

    Gentile was in spring training with the Phillies in 1967 (because regular 1B Bill White was injured in the off-season), but he didn't make the team. The Phillies used Tony Taylor at 1B until White returned, and signed Tito Francona to provide 1B backup. Gentile (as you said) spent 2 seasons with the Phillies AAA team in San Diego.

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  7. I got Jim's autograph at the Equitable Old Timers day at Fenway Park in May 1987. Being 15 at the time, I had never heard of him before. He was one of the few old timers who actually took the time to sign autographs that day (don't get me started on Bob Feller). I was shocked when I got home and looked him up in the Baseball Encyclopedia and saw the numbers he put up.

  8. Jim - As always, thanks for the extra info. Agreed about the A's uniforms. I love the old royal blue Philly A's unis, and I'm used to the green and gold. In so many ways, the KC A's are a blip on the radar.

    Anthony - I've always heard good things about Jim. He still makes a few appearances in Baltimore each year.