Grand slams leave Gentile a full load of memories

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

May 05, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

By the time the bar tour in Minneapolis-St. Paul was over, the sun was near rising on May 9, 1961, hours before the afternoon game. Orioles slugger Jim Gentile had enough time to shave, shower, order coffee at the hotel and hurry to Metropolitan Stadium.

He hadn't slept. This was not a problem, however. This was 1961.

"It was just a cool enough day. I felt great," he says.

Gentile hit the first grand slam off Pedro Ramos in the first inning, the second off Paul Giel in the second. He became the first major-leaguer to hit grand slams in successive turns at bat. Later, he hit a sacrifice fly for his ninth RBI of the game, a club record unmatched until Eddie Murray repeated the feat in 1985.

It was a day and a year when it all fell into place for Jim Gentile.

"It's just one of those things," says Gentile, 59, retired and living in Edmond, Okla., a northern suburb of Oklahoma City. "You just tap the plate and you're ready. You don't have any problems. You're seeing the ball well; you're not pulling off the ball. Everything's great."

Gentile set Orioles records that year that still stand: 141 RBIs; .646 slugging average; 46 homers by a left-handed batter.

It was his second season in Baltimore, his best in nine major-league summers. The following year, Gentile's batting average fell from .302 to .251; his home run total dropped from 46 to a still-respectable 33; and his RBI total slipped from 141 to 87.

He was losing patience at the plate, he says, getting anxious. Players talk about "staying within yourself." He didn't, he says.

"I started to think I had to carry the club," he says.

After the 1963 season in Baltimore, Gentile spent the next three years as a major-leaguer bouncing from Kansas City to Houston to Cleveland. He played for a team in Osaka, Japan, before returning to the United States in 1969. That was his last stop in professional baseball.

Through a reference from a friend, Gentile entered the retail tire business. He managed stores in Arizona and Oklahoma and retired from the business three years ago. All the while, he has kept his hand in baseball by joining the Orioles' fantasy camp in Sarasota, Fla., every year, by teaching at a baseball summer camp in Oklahoma and by appearing at card shows.

Last summer, Gentile showed up at FanFest in Baltimore during the week of the All-Star Game. He follows the Orioles on television and says he enjoys his occasional visits to Baltimore, where his game never was better.

"I loved living there," Gentile says. "I hated to leave."

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