Should you ever doubt that I have enough material to keep this blog going for several more years, consider this: I've been at it for nearly two years now, and this is the first card I've posted of Jim Gentile. That might speak more to my negligence than anything else, but there you have it.
I've noticed that among the more "experienced" Orioles fans that I know, "Diamond Jim" is an overwhelming favorite. It's not hard to see why. Thought first base is known as a position for power hitters, the O's had not had a first sacker reach double digits in home runs in the team's first six years in Baltimore. But manager Paul Richards rescued Gentile from the Dodgers organization, where he had been moldering in the minors for eight years despite putting up some big numbers (to be fair, they had a guy named Gil Hodges blocking his path). He paid immediate dividends, socking 21 homers and driving in 98 runs in his first full season in the big time while reaching base at a .403 clip. He was an All-Star and a Rookie of the Year runner-up. But Jim was just getting started.
In 1961, offense was up all over baseball, but even in that context Gentile had the greatest season ever by an Oriole first baseman. The totals were eye-popping: 46 home runs, 141 RBI, and .302/.423/.646 AVG/OBP/SLG. If it weren't for a couple of guys named Maris and Mantle, the 6'4" first baseman would likely have been the league's MVP. He hit his homers with a total of 46 runners on base, the highest total since Babe Ruth knocked in 48 in 1921. He hit five grand slams (two in consecutive innings on May 9), setting an A.L. record that was eventually surpassed by Don Mattingly in 1987. His 1.069 OPS is still a team record for a single season, and his RBI total wasn't surpassed until Rafael Palmeiro scraped by in 1996.
Though his production fell off over the next two years, Jim was still an above-average hitter, and he led the club with 57 total longballs over that span. Though the club traded him to Kansas City prior to the 1964 season, the soft-spoken giant made a big impact in just four years in Charm City. Boog Powell, Eddie Murray, and Palmeiro may have stayed longer, but Diamond Jim was the one who paved the way.