When Chris Davis (a.k.a. Deputy) launched his 46th homer all the way to Eutaw Street Wednesday night he joined some special company. Number 46 tied Deputy with Jim Gentile for third place on the all-time Orioles single season HR list. Only Brady Anderson (50) and Frank Robinson (49) have hit more. Davis has a lot in common with Gentile who was known as Diamond Jim. Both are 6-3, left-hand hitting first baseman who can hit baseball’s a country mile.
Gentile was the original slugging Oriole. From 1954 when the O’s arrived in Baltimore until Gentile’s jaw dropping 1961 summer, no Oriole had ever hit over 30 homers and not a single Oriole had ever driven in 100 runs.
Gentile had a big year in 1960 but his bat exploded in 1961. In 486 at bats he hit .302 with 46 homers and 146 RBI’s. He also set a ML record with 6 grand slams in his incredible season. Memorial Stadium with it’s huge dimensions was a pitchers ballpark in those days but it couldn’t hold Diamond Jim Gentile.
Gentile finished 3rd in the 1961 MVP vote, most years he would have been a lock for the award but this was the summer Roger Maris hit 61 to break Ruth’s record, Mickey Mantle (.317 54/128) finished a close second to Maris.
Like Chris Davis, Jim Gentile was popular with his teammates. A few years ago I did an event with Jim and he let me in on the most talked about day of his career. The date was May 9th of 1961 and the Orioles were in Minnesota to play the Twins.
According to Jim he wasn’t much of a drinking man but with a Monday night off he made an exception. A good friend from his minor league days was from the Twin Cities and they got together as friends do. His friends family owned several bars in the area and as Gentile put it “we hit ‘um all and sampled the product.” The sun was up by the time Gentile returned to the team hotel and Diamond Jim knew he was in no shape to play the day game. Some of his teammates gave him tips on how to fake a 24-hour bug that would keep him on the bench.
As the game drew closer the hung-over first baseman decided maybe he’d give it a shot. When manager Paul Richards posted the lineup there it was… batting 4th at first base Jim Gentile. Before you could say Alka-Seltzer Plus Gentile still half-loaded was up with the bases fully loaded. It was the first inning nobody out, Pedro Ramos threw it and bleary eyed Jim Gentile blasted it over the center field wall for a grad slam, 4-0 Orioles.
The story gets better, guess who comes up in the 2nd inning with the bases drunk? Go to the head of the class if you said Diamond Jim. This time Paul Giel threw it and BAM way back in right field he did it again, another grand slam! With one out in the 2nd inning Gentile had 2 grad slam’s becoming only the 3rd player to hit 2 in a game. He was the first to do it with no sleep and belly full of adult beverages.
The box score shows he went 2-3 that day with 9 RBI’s. Walt Dropo eventually replaced him at first base that day preventing Gentile from doing more damage to himself and the Twins. No other Oriole had over 17 homers or 72 RBI’s in ’61, not much protection for Jim Gentile who hit 46 and drove in 141. Deputy Davis know you’re in good company with Diamond Jim Gentile.