Jim Gentile Still Waiting for Orioles to Get It Right
Some of you have told stories. Some have said you don't remember him, or barely do, but that his story brings back memories of your childhood hero.
"He was a big deal to me,'' one of you wrote, not leaving your name. "Thanks for the article. It made me a kid again.''
Nick Curl, from Battle Creek, Mich., listed his favorite Orioles from the 1960s, including Gentile, and said, "That would be a great honor for him. Back in the day, everybody was a Yankee fan, but not me. I would have to make the trip (for a Jim Gentile Day) if that happens. What great memories.''
Gentile became the first 76-year old grandfather to win the American League RBI title last week. Baseball acknowledged that it had made a mistake in 1961, the year Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle -- and Gentile, too -- chased Babe Ruth's single-season home run record of 60.
But Gentile finished the year with 141 runs batted in, one behind Maris. Turns out, Maris was given credit for an RBI he didn't deserve. It was taken away last week. And now, Gentile is the 1961 AL RBI king, tied with Maris.
It was one of the biggest years in baseball history, yet Gentile's part in the story was lost completely. He wasn't even mentioned in the movie about that year, *61.
So my thought was to give him a day, a chance to celebrate something that he should have celebrated nearly half a century ago.
It would right a wrong for one guy, but also celebrate our own nostalgia, of Americana, of all our baseball heroes who have just faded away in our own memories. This could bring them back.
And you've spoken, and the Orioles have heard.
Will the Orioles do the right thing?
That gets a little confusing. It took forever for baseball to make right by Jim Gentile, and a week for the Orioles to add insult to history. It might take longer to honor his RBI title than it took him to get it.
"Jim Gentile is coming in this weekend as part of the Orioles Hall of Fame celebrations,'' an Orioles spokesperson said in an email. "He is doing an autograph signing for fans at some point. On Sunday, (he) is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and will be honored for his 1961 accomplishment as well as his wonderful career.''
Not exactly Jim Gentile Day, but pretty nice. One problem:
"This is getting crazy,'' Gentile said. "No, I haven't talked to anyone from the Orioles about throwing out the first pitch. I won't even be at the ballpark on Sunday.
"I'm appearing in part of a massive card show at the Civic Center in Baltimore. I appear from 11 to 2, leave for the airport, jump on a plane at 4 and fly home.''
You have to think the Orioles are trying to do something right here. But if they're planning to honor Gentile, and expect him to participate, shouldn't they let him know about it? And see if he can make it before they announce it?
I told the Orioles that Gentile wouldn't be there on Sunday, and the spokesperson apologized, saying it would be on Friday.
Don't botch this one, Orioles, not after Gentile waited 49 years.
To be clear, Gentile didn't even know I was going to suggest a Jim Gentile Day. He also isn't complaining about this being "crazy'' now, but just understandably confused by it.
It turned out that by dumb luck the suggestion had perfect timing. Gentile's son, Bo, was going with Gentile and the grandkids late this week to Baltimore to see the Orioles. There was the Orioles Hall of Fame thing, and also it would be a great chance for the grandkids to see what grandpa did.
In other words, Gentile, who now lives in Edmond, Okla., was already going to be there. His family was going to be there. Orioles Hall of Famers, apparently, were going to be there.
Exactly what more do you need for a Jim Gentile Day? This is the cheapest, easiest, goodwill PR move imaginable, not to mention just being the right thing to do.
One of you wrote that today's Orioles had lost touch with the franchise's great past. So now the Orioles have a new manager, Buck Showalter, and a chance to reconnect with the past.
Al Gallon wrote about eating at Gentile's restaurant in Maryland as a kid, describing exactly what road it was on, near which housing project:
"I ate there many times as a kid w/ my parents and can remember the sports memorabilia in his restaurant. He served Kentucky Fried chicken there. The place was torn down and now is a car dealership,,,,,,,,,,ahhhh the memories.''
Gentile told a funny story: When he negotiated a new contract after that 1961 season, his salary was doubled from $15,000 to $30,000. But Lee MacPhail, the Orioles GM at the time, told him that if he had won the RBI title, it would have been worth another $5,000.
So the Orioles should give him a check now, or at least donate that money to charity.
USA Today jumped in, figuring that $5,000 at 5 percent interest compounded daily since then would be worth about $58,000 today. Rob Neyer at ESPN.com said the Orioles don't owe him the money, but that it would be nice to have a ceremony and to make a donation to charity. The Baltimore Sun, too, asked if a Jim Gentile Day would be a good idea.
"You can't imagine all the calls and emails I've received ...'' Gentile said. "People have been great. I'm sure this has hit the Orioles as a surprise and time is, as usual, a limiting factor.''
You've waited 49 years, Jim. The Orioles can rush this one a little.
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