“Diamond Jim” Gentile
Diamond Jim. A diamond in the rough.” That was Jim Gentile, the three-time all-star major leaguer. He had a smooth glove and a big stick.
Gentile, pronounced “jen-TEE-uhl,” languished eight years in the Dodger minor leagues.
“We didn’t have the draft,” said Gentile. “In Southern California, my high school coach was a bird dog (scout) so he got me signed up with the Dodgers minor league. I didn’t know anything about the leagues and how they worked. There was no place for me to move up, nobody was leaving. When you signed up, you took what they gave you.
“The hardest thing back then was the pay wasn’t good. You had to work to make a living. We played because we loved it and I kept having good years. You either produced or you were gone,” said Gentile.
Roy Campanella, the first National League player to hit 500 home runs, called Gentile a diamond in the rough, hence the nickname, Diamond Jim. But Gentile needed a little polishing.
“I had a hot temper. Not at others though—at myself,” he said.
Gentile hit 208 homers in the minors and finally got two short stays with the Dodgers major league. Traded to the Orioles and desperate for a chance, Gentile didn’t play well at practice. Paul Richards gave him another 30 days to prove himself. Gentile did.
“They called us the Kiddie Corp. I was the oldest on the team at twenty-five.” Gentile made it to the 1960 Topps All-Star Rookie team, finishing behind two teammates for Rookie of the Year.
“You had to perform or lose your place. I got so mad once I put my fist through the glass water cooler. I would break bats and throw chairs,” said Gentile. As first baseman and left-handed batter with the Orioles, he had high expectations of himself. He met many of those including a record for RBIs (Runs Batted In).
Articles about Gentile were in Sports Illustrated, Saturday Evening Post, The Sporting News and Times. Several mentioned him being fiery, quick tempered, and hot headed. But people loved to watch him play ball.
Known as a powerful slugger, 1961 was Gentile’s best season ever. He drove in 141 runs and hit 46 home runs, including a new American League season record for five grand slams. The most unforgettable moment of the 1961 season came on May 9 when he hit grand slams in two consecutive innings in a single game. The record stood for 26 years. His season-long effort landed him in the MVP balloting (Most Valuable Player), third behind Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
“Baseball was a little different in the 50’s and 60’s. Much harder. Today they don’t have to hustle. Back then the fans would yell and scream at you to run. We ran when we could have walked. We hustled,” said Gentile. “And we had no agent. We had to do our own talking. It was a tough business.”
After playing with the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians, Gentile retired. But he didn’t put away his glove permanently after those 19 years. He went into business then coached in the Independent League for four years.
“If a kid today really loves baseball, he should stick with it. Too many kids get busy and drop out.”
Gentile also participates in the Baltimore Orioles Baseball Fantasy Camp for men. It is a one-week camp where eight teams of ballplayers get uniforms, trainers, and coaches, etc. Dozens of former players attend. The final “Big Game” is played at Camden Yard with and against the pros.
Often attending baseball card shows, Gentile travels a lot. His 1960 baseball card just sold on the Internet for $580. At the shows, he meets a lot of the old timers, like one of his old roommates, Rocky Colavito.
Gentile met his wife, Paula, when she was flying for Braniff airlines. They moved to Edmond after his retirement because she was from Oklahoma. They have been married for 40 years. He has five children and proudly brags on his granddaughter. “ She’s an eighth grader who can run the 200 at 26.4,” he said
Through the years, Gentile eventually reigned in his bad temper.
“I decided my temper was not good for me when I got busted for hitting an umpire with a bat. It about ended my career,” said Gentile. “That day, I sat alone in the club house after everyone left and realized I was my own worst enemy. Paula has helped me a lot. She taught me to laugh at myself. The past is gone. It doesn’t help if you have a bad attitude. You’ve always got tomorrow.”
Jim Gentile’s roughness has been polished and “Diamond Jim” is now in the Orioles Hall of Fame. The exceptionally talented player still gets 10-20 letters a day asking for autographs.