Friday, May 9, 2014

Twins Killers: Diamond Jim Gentile's Two Grandslams At The Met, May 9, 1961


"I was just trying to get a hit both times as I hate to leave a man on third base." - Diamond" Jim Gentile 



On today's date, Tuesday, May 9, 1961 (BBRef.), Gentile hit two grand slams versus the Twins in a 13-5 shellacking at Metropolitan Stadium, in Bloomington, Minnesota. This game marked the very first game ever for the Baltimore Orioles in Minnesota after the Washington franchise moved to The North Star State. In the world of pop music, Del Shannon's Runaway was Number 1 in the U.S. Hit Parade. Three days previous, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard had become the first American to travel into space, to an altitude of 116 statute miles, at a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. And perhaps equally fascinating to baseball fans was the legendary home run race between Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, who would finish first (61) and second (54), respectively, in the first year of expansion in Major League Baseball. A good trivia question: can you name who finished (tied) for third place in that race?

BACKSTORY
Jim Gentile had been buried in the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodger farm system for an unbelievable EIGHT seasons (1952-59), during which time he hit 208 home runs! His minor league totals have to be seen to be believed! The only thing blocking his path to the majors was the presence of long-time, beloved Dodger first baseman slugger and All-Star, Gil Hodges. His late arrival at age 25 (March, 1960) in Baltimore to finally become a regular player is the primary reason his place in Major League Baseball history is not more prominent. His background as a Dodger gets some treatment in this fine article "Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Jim Gentile: The Story of Baseball's 1961 Sensation." It goes into detail about his delayed start that goes beyond the scope of this post. One of the story's revelations is that Roger Maris was mistakenly credited for one extra RBI in a July 5th game - significant because without it, it meant he and Gentile had actually tied for the AL RBI lead at season's end.

As it was he only hit 179 homers in 9 seasons, with a 162 game average of 31. He hit 20 HR, and had 51 BB in 342 plate appearances, while collecting 59 RBI versus the Twins for his career; that was good for a .257/ .365 /.507 /.872 line in 91 games.

 The game marked the appearance of four future baseball Hall of Fame players and anagers, and was played before 4,514 fans. With 18 runs, 21 hits, 12 walks, and 6 relief pitchers the game clocked in at 3:10 under sunny, cool, 47 degree skies.

Minnesota fans at this post's publishing date most assuredly can relate to such maddening disconnects and variability of spring weather.

Regardless, I had never heard of this game, (being the young and spry spring chicken I am) until about 8 years ago, when a coworker of mine asked me if I had ever heard of Gentile's feat; the same friend had attended that game while on an outing as a school patroller. It was just a little bit before my time began as a Twins fan, and I had to know more about it. I couldn't locate any records to corroborate his story; I was evidently not aware of the existence of on-line sites such as Baseball Ref. and Retrosheet. What an ignorant, savage world I lived in...

THE GAME
Baltimore right fielder and future Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog had walked to lead off the game; he advanced to third by center fielder Jackie Brandt's double. Then, another future Hall of Famer, third baseman Brooks Robinson, took first on Ramos's second walk of the inning. It was then that Diamond Jim smoked a fastball for bomb number one over the center field fence off right hander Pedro Ramos, 410 feet just to the right of center. To this day, Gentile maintains he didn't hit it very well, implying that the wind helped the ball carry.

[Click schedule above for larger size] Herb Carneal was in the broadcasting booth that day - calling the game for the Orioles.  He'd joined their team in '57, wouldn't arrive in Minnesota until 1962. 


"Taking a healthy, home run cut!" - Racine Journal
May 10, 1961. Very Jim Thome-like in its violence.


Gentile's #4 would later be worn by another,
noteworthy Oriole - Hall of Fame Manager 

See above Gentile photo with story at Brownsville Herald, May 10, 1961

After Ramos allowed a single to Oriole starter Chuck Estrada with one out in the second, he walked Herzog again, and was removed in favor of reliever and Winona (Minn.) native, Paul Giel. Jackie Brandt topped one, which Giel fielded and threw wildly for an error at second, attempting to force out Herzog, allowing Estrada to score on the play. Giel had to have been completely aware who was coming up, but despite that he still gave Robinson his second free pass in as many innings to bring up the Diamond Man. Same result: on his very next swing, Gentile caught Giel's high change up, and cleared the bases with another cannon shot - this time 410 feet, deep into the right field bleachers (the right field line was 329 feet in 1961; the power alley in right center was 365 - it must have had looked gargantuan to the 4,514 in attendance). And just as they had in the first, the same quartet scored to put the game away! His 8th inning sac-fly scored Brandt - the third time Gentile had driven him home - giving him nine RBI on the day. His slams drew him even with Mantle in the early home run race at nine.

Curiously following Gentile at number 5 in the Baltimore batting order was yet another Hall of Famer and former Dodger. Dick Williams was no all-star as a player; he would make The Hall purely on the strength of his managing acumen. To wit, he did not reach base once in that ballgame. In fact, he was doing his darnedest to stay above the Mendoza Line; he entered play that day batting .203. Meanwhile, Gentile had been lighting it up in the first 22 games of the season, with a .338/.476/.738 line - good for a whopping OPS of 1.215 (see stats link). Oriole Manager Paul Richards (fascinating SABR bio link) didn't even bother to protect Gentile in the lineup with other, better choices like catcher Gus Triandos (perennial MVP candidate), or shortstop Ron Hansen (1960 AL All-Star/Rookie of The Year). Richards was regardly universally as the genius baseball mind in that era, much like Gene Mauch would be a few years later; in this isolated instance, at least, his lineup sequence just didn't add up for me. Now, as if I haven't deadened your mind already with links to stats and news accounts, here's another one: a funny little piece about Gentile and Manager Richards in this Sporting News short, from July 19, 1961. 



Kingsport (TN) Times, May 10, 1961, Would have been nice if
the UPI photographer had actually gotten Brooks Robinson and
Whitey Herzog (run-scorers with Gentile and Brandt) into the frame, instead of Ron Hanson. Coulda-shoulda-woulda, I guess.

Also of interest was yet another Hall of Famer playing in that game - Harmon Killebrew. The Killer, obviously not wanting to be left out of the fun, went deep in his last at bat in the ninth to deep left field. As it was his sixth blast ever wearing a Twins uniform, he was continuing his own blistering pace (BBRef popup stats) since coming back from an injury. He and Gentile would end up in a tie in the 1961 homer race with 46. Twins right fielder Bob Allison also went deep twice - but he only had a paltry 3 RBI's for his 3 for 4 afternoon, in contrast to Mr. Gentile (San Antonio Express news PDF) .

POSTSCRIPT
If you check Diamond Jim's splits in that 1961 season (BBRef popup stats) against the Twins and the other AL teams, you'll note he took the ugly stick to nearly everyone that year. His favorite victim was the L.A. Angels pitching staff; his 1.441 OPS came on the strength of 9 homers, 3 doubles, 15 singles, 25 rbi's, and an amazing .409 BAbip! His line against Minnesota was a still-whopping .327/.426/.691 for a 1.117 OPS, with 6 home runs, and 23 rbi's.  Overall, he had 46 homers, 141 rbi's, 96 walks, batted .302, and only struck out 106 times. So, I don't expect I'll knock you over with a feather with surprise if I say 1961 was his career year.

1961 Topps Gentile card

An online article from summer, 2013, at MASN Sports Network shows Gentile in gracious form, discussing his great 1961 season, in addition to praising current Oriole first baseman Chris Davis for his home run exploits. He sounds thoroughly at peace with his career and place in Oriole history. 

After 1963, he would go on to play for several more American and National League clubs, adding value wherever he went, though never coming close to equaling that magical 1961 season. As if anyone could. But for legions of Twins fans, he is known today as the very first Twins Killer.

To quote the great Twins broadcaster:
"So long, everybody!" - Herb Carneal

1 comment:

Dr Dios Prometheus said...

Thanks for the great article on Daimond Jim. I remember watching that game on TV in Baltimore. In 1961, he was my favortie Oriole. Jim made a big impact on the Orioles when he joined the team. Up till then, the Orioles had not escaped their St. Louis Browns roots. Future Hofer Brooks Robinson had yet to make his mark.