Former major leaguer
Former Orioles slugger Jim Gentile's career received increased attention in the last month when a records change gave him a share of the 1961 American League RBI crown. Gentile turned in a monster season that year, hitting 46 home runs and driving in 141 runs. His season, though, was overshadowed by the home run race that year between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
Gentile recently returned to Baltimore, where the team honored him and presented him with a $5,000 check after a report came out that then-Orioles GM Lee MacPhail said he would've paid Gentile that much more money had he won the RBI crown that year.
I've always said everybody has a career year. I just believe every once in awhile it happens, and 1961 was mine. I know six guys had over 40 home runs, Maris had 61, Mantle had 54, (Harmon) Killebrew had 46. A lot of people said it was about the extension of the new clubs and not having the pitching depth. Nobody hit in the 30s that year though. If the pitching was that bad, why didn't a lot of other guys hit that many home runs? You look at the six guys that did it (Maris, Mantle, Killebrew, Gentile, Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash), we're all home run hitters.
I know my season that year gets overlooked sometimes but that's understandable. It was a great season for all of us. What a story in New York that year, with Maris and Mantle, two Yankees going after Babe Ruth's record. I was just playing my game.
I was stuck with the Dodgers for awhile. Back then, if you had options and they didn't want to sell you, they could just keep optioning you down. I had 208 home runs in the minor leagues before I got up. I started in A ball and hit 34 my first year. In 1955, I was in the Southern League and hit 28 and led the league in RBIs. There just wasn't room for me in Brooklyn. I just couldn't figure out why.
In 1960, I was sold to Baltimore on the condition of a 30-day look. If I didn't make it, I went back to the Dodger organization with $25,000. We had five of them over at first base. (Orioles manager Paul) Richards was looking for power. We played the games switching off, and I just didn't do anything. It got down to the last day and Sparky Anderson called me. He was going to manage Toronto in the International League and wanted to know if I wanted to play there. I told him if I was going to play one more year, I was going to try to go to Japan.
I got to the ballpark and Richards said, 'Son, you can't be as bad as you look. If you don't hit the 29th day, I'm sending you back to the Dodgers.' The first game we played at home against Washington I went 1 for 4 and started two ground ball double plays. We went to Washington and things just started to click. I guess I relaxed, I don't know. I played against right-handers and (Walt) Dropo played against left-handers. I finished with 21 home runs, 98 RBIs and hit .292. We continued that until 1961 until we went to Minnesota on May 9, and then when we got back to Baltimore, we released Dropo and I was the regular first baseman the rest of the way.
I managed for four years in the independent leagues, two in Fort Worth and two years in the Frontier League in Columbia. I was up in Schaumburg, Ill., as the hitting coach. I had five good years in the independent league. I had a lot of fun. I just loved baseball. I wished I would've gotten into it earlier in my life. I didn't know who to call to get into it though. Then I turned 67 and Fort Worth called me and said they were going into a league and if I wanted to manage. This is my first year not coaching. I'm just spending time with my family and enjoying it now.
I've been in Oklahoma for 30 years. I married a young lady from Oklahoma who was a stewardess for Braniff when I was playing for Houston. We've been married 43 years.
I went to Japan because you make good money over there. I had a tough time getting over there though. I belonged to the Phillies and was a player-coach for San Diego. I got this offer from Japan and called the Phillies and asked me to have my release. They made me pay $5,000 because they'd paid to get me.
I'd gone over there in '56 with the Dodgers. On opening day, I went after a pop fly and got hurt. I played two innings of one game and was out for three months. The manager didn't want Americans on his clubs. It was a great experience over there to tell the truth.