You accommodated a guy in his backward 40s whose aftermost name is DiMaggio or Killebrew or Aaron and yes, you artlessly admiration if his dad isn’t Joe or Harmon or Hank. But you accommodated a guy with a acutely accustomed aftermost name and you anticipate annihilation of it. In fact, aback said guy tells you that his dad already hit .302 with 46 home runs and 141 RBIs in a distinct above alliance season, you can’t advice but be skeptical. A amateur puts up those kinds of numbers, alike once, you should apperceive who he is if you’re a baseball fan.
If it happened during the mid-1990s or aboriginal 2000s, aback characterless players were hitting brief home runs, maybe, aloof maybe, a guy accumulates those numbers and his name isn’t the aboriginal or additional to pop into your head. Maybe it gets absent in the crazed era of crazy stats. Maybe.
But if a guy puts up those numbers in the 1960s, you amount afterwards abundant guesses, you’ll acreage on the appropriate name. It has to be Willie Mays or Frank Robinson or somebody. Hell, Carl Yastrzemski won the Amateur Crown in 1967 with beneath blatant numbers (.326 / 44 / 121), so this guy’s gotta be on the tip of your tongue. But he’s not. That division doesn’t accord to Ernie Banks or Brooks Robinson or Roberto Clemente or any Hall of Famer you can anticipate of. It belongs to Jim Gentile.
“Who?” You’re apparently thinking.
Looking aback on the 20th aeon of baseball, there are alone a scattering of years area you would absolutely, absolutely not appetite to accept the best division of your career if you accept any hopes of it actuality remembered.
1919 would be a acceptable year to avoid, as burglary account abroad from the Chicago Black Sox aspersion adeptness be impossible. It’s not every day a aggregation throws a World Series.
1941 would be an appropriately astute year to break abroad from. Aback Ted Williams bats .406 and Joe DiMaggio hits in 56 beeline games, well, unless you hit .407 or put calm a 57-game hitting streak, you’re bedevilled to be forgotten.
Then there’s 1961, conceivably the best iconic year in baseball history, aback two of the best players on the best accustomed sports aggregation in the country chased bottomward the best approved afterwards almanac captivated by the best accepted man anytime to comedy the game. Surely, this would be the No. 1 division to beacon bright of.
How can you attempt with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris while they’re in a dog action for Babe Ruth’s best home run almanac in Yankee Stadium for an absolute summer?
In short, you can’t.
The Brooklyn Dodgers active Jim Gentile to a arrangement appropriate out of aerial academy in 1952. He stood 6-3, advised added 210 pounds and he had such a barbaric beat that aggregation administration asked him to abrasion a blot on his hip so he wouldn’t abrasion his cartilage aback the bat aerated about his body.
“I approved it, but one time I swung so adamantine the bat bounced off the blot and airtight into a catcher’s head,” Gentile says. “I chock-full application it afterwards that.”
He had a cannon for an arm, too.
“I active out of aerial academy as a bullpen and a aboriginal baseman,” he explains. “I got out of academy in June. On the aboriginal of August, they alleged and said they capital me to comedy in Santa Barbara because a bullpen got aching and they bare somebody to booty his spot. The aboriginal d I pitched I had a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but I accomplished the division with two wins and six losses with an becoming run boilerplate of about three. The aing year, aback I showed up at my aggregation in Fort Worth, they asked if I capital to comedy aboriginal abject or pitch. I chose first.”
And thus, the big lefty boarded on a successful, yet at times, berserk arresting career as a adeptness hitter in able baseball.
“My aboriginal year in distinct ‘A’ I hit 34 home runs and led the league,” he says. “The aing year, in bifold ‘A’, I led that alliance in home runs. But none of it mattered because the pecking adjustment was in stone. Norm Larker was advanced of me in amateur ‘A’ and Gil Hodges was advanced of him on the Dodgers. There was boilerplate for me to go.”
To the accepted crop of baseball players and fans, Gentile’s plight charge assume surreal. His abettor couldn’t do anything? There were no agents. What did the players abutment anticipate about it? No abutment either. Couldn’t he aloof delay a year or two until chargeless agency? No such affair as chargeless agency.
These days, the actual abstraction of activity apologetic for a baseball amateur is laughable. It’s about absurd to feel apologetic for them. It’s like aggravating to arm-twist accord for the aristocratic family. In agreement of their careers, how do you feel apologetic for bodies who accomplish millions arena a d for a living?
But that’s now. In the 1950s, accessory alliance baseball players had about as abundant advantage over their team’s owners as a accepted Walmart accountant has over the Walton family.
“I’d ask Buzzie Bavasi, the accepted administrator of the Dodgers at the time, ‘Why don’t you barter me?’ He’d say, ‘Nobody wants you’,” Gentile says, laughing. “I didn’t accept an agent. We aloof didn’t apperceive aback then.”
Gentile says the team’s argumentation at the time was that, yes, maybe he could be a abundant aboriginal baseman. But the Dodgers already had a abundant aboriginal baseman; and it’s bigger to accept two abundant aboriginal basemen, alike if one’s ashore in the minors, than for your adversary to accept one. It was that mindset that kept him from actuality traded. In the meantime, he connected to boss the minors.
“In 1956, I hit 40 home runs in bifold ‘A’ brawl in Fort Worth,” he says. “I got arrive to bout in Japan with the draft of the Dodgers aggregation afterwards the division concluded and I bent fire. While we were overseas, I led the aggregation in home runs, runs batted in, batting average, about everything. That’s aback Roy Campanella gave me my nickname, Diamond, because he said I was a design in the rough.”
One accurate anamnesis during that cruise led Gentile to accept that he adeptness never get to comedy in the big leagues for the Dodgers. It happened aback he came up to bat with the bases loaded and the Dodgers’ manager, Walter Alston, told Jim Gilliam, who was on third, to abduct home.
“That’s aback I knew Alston didn’t affliction for me,” he says. “Gilliam approved to abduct home and he got alleged out.”
So what happened next?
“I hit a three-run homer,” he says, laughing.
During that cruise Gentile additionally became acceptable buddies with Campanella.
“Roy was one of my friends,” Gentile said. “We’d go out to banquet in Japan and I’d say, ‘Campy, I don’t apperceive what to do. I accept Gil is the best aboriginal baseman in the National League, but I appetite to play’. He aloof said, ‘When the time comes, you accept to booty advantage of it’. Nowadays, a guy can go beeline from Double-A to the majors. Aback then, you had to delay your turn, no amount how continued it took. I didn’t get mad at anybody as this went on. In the meantime, I kept arena ball.”
That aftermost byword is an understatement, as Gentile would animation about the Dodgers accessory alliance system, generally arena three amateur in a distinct day.
“I’d comedy in the morning in Single-A, again in the afternoon in Double-A, and again I’d comedy in the night d for the Triple-A club,” he says.
And then, finally, he got his shot.
“I was arena in Panama aback Joe Altobelli absolved up to me and told me, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been traded to Baltimore,'” Gentile says. “Then he said, ‘It’s too bad, that’s a big ballpark, you’re gonna accept to hit it alert to get it out of there’.”
The Orioles paid $50,000 and two players for Gentile, but he was alone beatific to Baltimore on a balloon base for 30 days.
“If they didn’t like me afterwards thirty days, they could accelerate me aback and get aback bisected the money,” Gentile says.
Yes, you apprehend that right. A able baseball amateur was traded with a acknowledgment policy.
Fortunately, the Orioles didn’t accept to anguish about accolade the cancellation for Gentile’s acquirement to accompany him aback because they absitively to accumulate him. (The actuality that he was an All-Star, about won Rookie of the Year, and accomplished 15th in MVP voting fabricated that accommodation absolutely easy.)
That was in 1960, one division afore Gentile would accouter all of his aptitude to column one of the best absorbing seasons by a aboriginal baseman in his generation.
“By 1961, I had been in the d continued abundant to apperceive what I was able of,” Gentile says. “I had a big beat and I knew I could hit anywhere amid .250 and .270 and hit about 25 home runs. At the time, if you hit 25 home runs you were appealing good. I aloof knew my ability.”
The division started aloof like any other, with Gentile activity along, aggravating to advice his brawl club win games. He didn’t accept the continued affirmed affairs that players accept today, so he took anniversary d seriously, for abhorrence of not actuality active the afterward year. Again on May 9, aloof a ages into the season, he had a d that would be a assurance of things to come.
During a 13-5 achievement over the Minnesota Twins, Gentile hit two admirable slams on the way to a nine-RBI d (he collection in one run on a cede fly). He would go on to hit three added admirable slams that year and, aloof like in that game, about aggregate bankrupt his way. If not for the nightly fireworks demography abode about 200 afar to the arctic at Yankee Stadium, Gentile would accept been the allocution of the league.
“Right about the All-Star Game, the three of us, me, Mickey and Maris, were all at about 25 or 26 home runs,” Gentile says. “Mickey hit from both abandon of the bowl and he was one of the greatest players in the game. I would accept admired to be able to archetype Maris’ swing. He aloof had a admirable swing.”
Gentile admits that he didn’t allocution to Mantle or Maris abundant at the All-Star Bold that year, admitting he did get a account with them and a few added All-Stars.
“To acquaint you the truth, I consistently acquainted like an outsider,” Gentile says. “I never acquainted like I was in their league.”
After the All-Star Game, aback the banderole contest started to calefaction up, so did the circadian aback and alternating in the home run chase amid Mantle and Maris.
“We had about the aforementioned home runs mid-summer,” Gentile says. “Then, all of a sudden, they were closing in on 40 and I was alone closing in on 30.”
Lost in all of the absorption was the actuality that Gentile had a college batting boilerplate and added RBIs than Mantle and he went RBI for RBI with Maris the accomplished year.*
Still, annihilation could attempt with the fizz created by two Yankees block the abiding Babe Ruth and his home run record.
When the dust settled, and Maris accomplished with 61 home runs to Mickey’s 54, they were locks to accomplishment one-two in MVP voting, abrogation Gentile as the buyer of one of the best seasons anytime to not win the award. Gentile alike accomplished with a college slugging allotment and on-base allotment than Maris, who came out on top. Such is the amount you pay aback you do action with the giants of the game.
Fifty years later, aback Gentile is asked if he’d change annihilation about that season, he action and says, “I would accept admired to accept done it in ’62!”
It helps to accept a faculty of amusement about these things.
After his season-for-the-ages, Gentile got a baby aftertaste of the activity of a above alliance baseball brilliant aback he went on a home run derby bout of the south with Harmon Killebrew and Roger Maris.
“We’d go to four altered towns, assurance autographs and again hit 20 balls,” he says. “It was a way to accommodated the admirers and accomplish some money.”
He says he never discussed either his or Maris’ celebrated division while they were on bout calm and alike action at the idea.
“When ballplayers acclimated to get together, we didn’t absolutely altercate baseball,” he says. “I wasn’t activity to sit bottomward aing to Roger Maris and say, ‘Hey, how’d you hit 61’!”
Of course, as a assurance of the times, aback the home run derby bout was over, Gentile didn’t arch to a cutting-edge ability to resume an off-season conditioning because there was no such thing.
“When I played they didn’t appetite you appropriation weights, so best of the time to break in appearance you did your own contest or you ran,” he said. “When I was in aerial school, I acclimated aloof a duke squeezer every night until it acquainted like my accoutrements were activity to draft up. I additionally acclimated to beat a abundant advance bat, but that’s all we’d do.”
No, clashing today’s players who accomplishment the division and blur commercials and eat aliment able by a claimed chef and exercise with top-flight trainers, Gentile accomplished one of the greatest seasons of his activity and went aback to an off-season job at a car dealership.
“I wasn’t abundant of a salesman,” he says. “I was added like a maitre d’, affable bodies and actuality paid to be there for baseball fans.”
Gentile knows that if he had his 1961 division in 2013, he wouldn’t be alive at a car dealership, rather, he’d own one. Or ten.
“I would adulation to comedy now,” he says. “The big affair nowadays is that players break in appearance all year annular and they don’t accept to go to work. I anticipate the players are fantastic, though. Every decade they get stronger and some of the plays they accomplish in the outfield are spectacular. I still watch the Orioles aback I can. They accept an agitative adolescent team.”
Does he accept a admired accepted player? Derek Jeter, perhaps? Or a aboriginal baseman like Albert Pujols? Or Prince Fielder?
“I like Nick Swisher,” he says. “He plays hard.”
An under-the-radar acknowledgment from the man with the one of the best under-the-radar abundant seasons in baseball history.
If you didn’t apperceive his name before, now you do:
Jim Gentile: .302 / 46 / 141 – 3rd Abode AL MVP – 1961
* In 2010, it was apparent that Roger Maris was accidentally accustomed an added RBI in a d adjoin the Indians on July 5th, 1961. Maris accomplished 1961 with one added RBI than Gentile. Aback statisticians removed the added RBI, Gentile clearly angry Maris for the alliance lead, with 141.
— Jon Finkel is the columnist of The Dadvantage: Break In Appearance On No Sleep With No Time And No Equipment. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Finkel.
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