Former Orioles slugger Jim Gentile, who once held the Orioles' records for home runs and RBIs in a season, is at Camden Yards this week, partially to meet Chris Davis, who broke the club's single-season homer mark with 52 (and counting) this year.
Before Thursday’s game, Gentile had his picture taken with Davis and club vice president Brady Anderson, who hit 50 homers in 1996. Gentile hit 46 in 1961. Those three, and Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson, who had 49 in 1966, are atop the franchise’s homer list.
“I think it’s great,” Gentile said of Davis becoming the club’s home run leader for a single season. “Every decade has their star and this guy is going to be a star for years.”
Gentile said he believes there are some parallels between his career and Davis'. Both were given up by their original organizations in trades -- the Texas Rangers with Davis and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers with Gentile -- before coming to Baltimore, having one strong season and then an historic breakout.
“He is at ease. He knows this club wanted him, In Texas, he wasn’t sure, I don’t think. He came here and this team wanted him and it gets you mentally ready,” Gentile said. “When I came here, I was on a contract where they could send me back. But [manager] Paul Richards said, ‘I’m keeping you for 150 games,’ and it just cleared my mind, and I just did what I could.”
Gentile’s 141 RBIs was both the most in the young franchise’s history and in the American League in 1961. He finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player race and third in the AL home run race that year, which is remembered as the historic chase of Babe Ruth’s record between New York Yankees greats Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
Gentile has always had a special spot in Orioles history, however. This year, in August, The Baltimore Sun ranked the best offensive seasons by an Orioles player and Gentile, at the time, was second -- between Robinson and Davis. Now, Gentile thinks that order has to be flip-flopped some.
“I’d move him up to second, absolutely; 52 homers and he’s only four RBIs behind me [at 137 heading into Thursday's game], and he’ll pick those up before the season ends. So yeah, I’ll be third. I’m fourth in home runs now, and I’ll be fourth in RBIs. But my name is still going to be there for a while. And I don’t think anyone’s going to break 15 homers in a month [in August 1961] or five grand slams [for the season]. So I’m hanging on to that.”
When Davis was about to break Gentile’s mark, the former Orioles first baseman who now lives in Oklahoma, sent the current first baseman an email of encouragement. And when they talked today, Gentile congratulated him again -- and had a special message.
“I told him, ‘You had to hit , because we need a first baseman as the leading home run hitter,” Gentile said. “And there is now, so I’m happy.”