Showing posts with label Roger Maris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roger Maris. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

How Jack Crimian mystified Mickey Mantle in his major league odyssey

John “Jack” Crimian, a former major league pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Athletics, and Detroit Tigers in the 1950s, died just days short of his 92nd birthday on February 11, 2019, in Middletown, Delaware.

Jack Crimian 1956 Topps / Topps
The righty hurler signed his first professional baseball contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1943 out of Olney High School where he was teammates with another future major leaguer, Del Ennis.

“I went to high school with Del Ennis,” he said in a phone interview from his Delaware home in 2009. “We used to hit from the football field. He once hit one out on Duncannon Avenue, past the football fields and the tennis courts. I got signed out on the sandlots on C Street and Roosevelt Boulevard. There is a park down the street and the Phillies scout (Jocko Collins) signed me from out there.”

He played the 1944 season Wilmington and Bradford before being drafted into the Army. He served as a paratrooper until 1946 when he had to return home after his father’s sudden death.

Jack Crimian 1951 Minor League Bio / Author's Collection
After the Cardinals drafted Crimian from the Phillies at the end of the 1946 season, he toiled patiently in their minor league system until his midseason 1951 call-up. The Cardinals wasted no time putting his services to use.

“I got into a ballgame in the major leagues the first day that I got there,” he recalled. “I got off the plane, went to the hotel, and they were leaving for the ballpark. I went right along to the ballpark with them.”

He pitched sparingly for the Cardinals but stayed long enough to earn his first major league win, which came in a relief effort ironically against the Phillies. He ended his first campaign with a 1-0 record with a 9.00 ERA in 11 games.

The Cardinals gave Crimian another look in 1952, but the fierce National League lineups served him a quick return to the minor leagues. He spent the next three seasons in Triple-A honing his craft in preparation for another shot at major league glory.

His bumpy ride included a 1953 offseason trade to the Cincinnati Reds who then sold his contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. Now a veteran of almost a decade of professional experience, the team had Crimian help Elston Howard make the transition from outfielder to catcher.

“We taught him to catch in Toronto,” he said. “We got him on loan from the Yankees, and they wanted to make a catcher out of him. We had a veteran staff, and they let us have him so he could catch every day. He caught on real quick.

“I still think he was one of the best hitters ever in the American League, definitely on that Yankees club. He hit all over. You could not pitch him one way; he would hit to right and left-center. He hit behind Mantle and Maris, and you could not walk either one of them to get to Howard because he would hurt you just as much as they would. It is no wonder why they got all of those RBIs. You had to pitch to them. He was hard to strike out.”

The Kansas City Athletics looked to bolster their pitching staff when they traded for Crimian after he posted a 19-6 record and 2.10 ERA with Toronto in 1955. Finally, he had a full season ahead in the major leagues. Pitching mostly in relief, he finished second in the American League in appearances, seeing mound time in 54 contests. While he could not recapture his dominance from Toronto in the American League, he was proud that he held Mickey Mantle to a paltry .182 batting average (2 for 11 with 5 Ks).

“I had no problem with him, I really didn't,” Crimian said. “I was fortunate I guess. He might have got a bunt single, but that was about all. I never threw him a strike.

"He wanted to hit all of the time so he would chase pitches. I would throw sliders way in on him and sinkers away from him all day long. He used to bunt against us. We were the first ones to put the shift on him. A couple times, he bunted and he got a base hit. At least we knew where we were at; that's why we did it.”

Despite his reliability with Kansas City, Crimian was on the move once again, this time the Athletics traded him to the Detroit Tigers in 1957 as part of an eight-player deal. He only lasted four games with the Tigers; however, he was still able to get his name in the record books.

A Cleveland Indians rookie named Roger Maris stepped to the plate in the 11th inning looking to battle the well-traveled veteran. He ran the count full, and Crimian thought he could sneak a high fastball by the youngster. Maris swung mightily and connected for his first major league home run.

“It was a 3-2 count and I pitched him up and away,” Crimian said to Bob Yearick in 2017. “The ball went up and away, and it still hasn’t come down. But it was Jim Bunning’s fault. He struck out Maris earlier in the game, so he told me how to pitch to him.”

Detroit sent Crimian to the minor leagues a few weeks later, ending his major league career. He pitched two more seasons in the minors before retiring in 1959. While Crimian was out of professional baseball, he had not completely abandoned the game. He pitched with them from 1963-65, and even though his fastball no longer had the zip it once did, he used his guile and smarts en route to a perfect 26-0 record.

He spent 34 years as an auto body specialist in Wilmington, Delaware before his retirement. He was inducted into the Delaware Professional Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tracy Stallard, surrendered record setting home run to Roger Maris, dies at 80

Tracy Stallard, a seven-year major league pitcher who was best remembered for surrendering Roger Maris' record-setting 61st home run in 1961, has passed away at the age of 80 according to an announcement by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

During the 50th anniversary of his fateful meeting with Maris in 2011, I sat down with Stallard at a charity event in Pennsylvania for MetroBASEBALL magazine to discuss his place in New York baseball lore, both for his role in the famous home run, as well as his tenure with the New York Mets. Below is a modified version of the article that originally appeared in the magazine.

Tracy Stallard (l.) with Mets teammate Jack Fisher (r.) / N. Diunte
Fifty years after he faced off with Roger Maris, Tracy Stallard was just glad to be remembered. On the last day of the 1961 season, the strapping 24-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox stared down Maris behind in the count 2-0. Stallard reared back for his fastball and with one swing of the bat, Maris eclipsed Babe Ruth’s mark for home runs in a season. Forever linked due to the events of October 1st, 1961, Stallard doesn’t shy away from his connection with the Yankee slugger.

“Well it seems to be now that it’s bigger now than when it happened,” Stallard said in 2011. “I’m glad it happened. I did my best and he was doing his best and he came out on top. That’s about all you can make out of it.”

Stallard had little time to get caught up with Maris’ chase as he was informed close to the start of the game that he would be taking the mound. The short notice gave him little chance to ponder the complexities of the Yankees powerful lineup.

“I went to the ballpark and we didn’t know who was pitching," he said. "We got there about 45 minutes before the game and [while] we were getting dressed Sal Maglie threw me the ball. That’s when I knew I was pitching. I didn’t think that much about it. They had a great team. He got a lot of good pitches to hit simply because of the guys hitting behind him. Mickey Mantle didn’t play that day; however, they had some good players [in the lineup], Skowron, Howard, Blanchard, and Berra.”

Lost in the celebration of Maris’ record-breaking home run was a strong pitching performance by Stallard. He gave up only one run in seven innings while striking out five batters, including Maris the next time he came to the plate. In fact, Stallard would face Maris seven times in his career and yield only that home run.

Ironically, Stallard found himself wearing a New York uniform shortly thereafter; however, it was on the other side of town. The New York Mets acquired Stallard in a trade prior to the 1963 season. For the next two years, Stallard was a mainstay in the Mets starting rotation, leading the team in complete games and strikeouts in 1964. Despite shouldering many of the losses, Stallard had fun playing in Queens.

“I was received very well,” he said. “The fans in New York are like no other. I pitched some pretty good baseball then. I enjoyed every minute of New York. The people were great and they treated us good. It’s hard to put up with a losing ballclub, but they did pretty well.”

Over his seven-year career, Stallard pitched with the St. Louis Cardinals in addition to the Mets and Red Sox. He pitched in the minor leagues until retiring from professional baseball after the 1969 season. He returned to Virginia and ran a successful coal stripping business for many years.

In retirement, Stallard shunned the spotlight, but in recent years he became more accepting of his place in baseball history.

“I don’t know that much about whether it’s changed my life or not," he said. “I played in a lot of golf tournaments because of it. I’m sure if I hadn’t been the pitcher at the time, I wouldn’t be invited. I’m certainly not that naive.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Joe DeMaestri, All-Star and member of 1961 New York Yankees, passes away at 87

Joe DeMaestri, a major league All-Star and member of the 1961 World Series champion New York Yankees, passed away August 26, 2016 at his home in Novato, California according to his daughter, Donna. He was 87.

Born December 9, 1928 in San Francisco, DeMaestri was a star at Tamalpais High School. He caught the attention many teams, but ultimately signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1946 due to his connection with scout Charlie Walgreen, who was also a family friend.

Joe DeMaestri signed baseball card / Baseball-Almanac.com

His break came when he was signed by the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 draft after the 1950 season. He served the 1951 season as a backup infielder, spelling Chico Carrasquel at shortstop and Hall of Famer Nellie Fox at second base. Now christened as a major leaguer, the St. Louis Browns took a chance on the upstart DeMaestri, acquiring him in an eight-player trade prior to the start of the 1952 season.

The lowly Browns were helmed by the curmudgeonly Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, who took over the team just as DeMaestri arrived. Speaking with DeMaestri during a 2008 interview from his home, he felt that nothing could have prepared him for the experience of playing for Hornsby.

“He wasn't one of the favorite managers of anybody at the time,” DeMaestri said. “He was really from the old school. Bill Veeck fired him halfway through the season. He was really tough on everybody. What he expected, you just couldn't do. Everybody was supposed to hit like him; he was just a tough old boy.”

Hornsby wasn’t the only colorful character he countered in St. Louis. DeMaestri found himself placed in a surreal position playing defense behind the legendary ageless pitcher Satchel Paige.

“It's been so long that I remember playing with Satch,” he said. “We didn't know how old he was. He certainly could throw; he had tremendous control.”

DeMaestri’s reign in St. Louis was short, as he was on the move once again during the offseason, going to the Philadelphia Athletics in exchange for first baseman Eddie Robinson. This trade finally gave him the opportunity to play full time, learning the nuances of the position from two great shortstops of his era, first with Eddie Joost in Philadelphia and then later under Lou Boudreau when the team moved to Kansas City.

“I had the fortune for playing Marty Marion, Lou Boudreau, and Eddie Joost,” he said. “What else could I ask for? Boudreau taught me the game more than anybody as far as short stop goes. I had a good arm, an accurate arm. Every field was different; some had tall grass and slowed the ball down. [He taught me to] know your hitters and how fast they are. One of the fastest was [Mickey] Mantle down the line, so was [Luis] Aparicio. Batting lefty, Mickey was the toughest. If Mickey hit one towards you and it was a two hopper, you better get it out of your glove and over there because he was gone.”

He played seven seasons for the Athletics, making the American League All-Star team in 1957. His fortunes changed at the end of the 1959 season when he rode the elevator from the cellar to the penthouse, going to the New York Yankees in the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Big Apple. He encountered a locker room full of familiar faces, not only from playing in the same league, but from the trading exchange that the Yankees built with the Athletics, using them as a pseudo farm club during the late 1950s.

“That was a story because nobody else wanted to trade with the Yankees,” he said. “We were struggling in Kansas City. If they needed somebody in a hurry, they got them from Kansas City.

“I knew all those guys; I played against them for seven years. We got to knew each other well. Roger and I were in the same trade and I was in Kansas City with Hector Lopez and Clete Boyer. We were all ex-teammates.”

While DeMaestri was now in a position to experience the thrills of post-season baseball and the riches that came with it, one thing he had to sacrifice was his playing time. While in Kansas City he was the starting shortstop, on the Yankees he was one of Casey Stengel’s platoon players. He only appeared in 49 games in 1960, managing a mere 35 at-bats. He quickly learned to change his mind set to be ready when summoned.

“It's a whole different ballgame when you are playing every day instead of sitting there and trying to stay ready,” he said. “It was the toughest thing I had to do, trying to stay ready, especially when I went to New York at the end. Gil McDougald and I were the reserves. It was like spring training every day. You might not get in for two-to-three weeks, and then all of a sudden you get in. Stengel kinda had his defensive club when we got the lead. I'd go to short and Kubek would go to left. Yogi [Berra] was playing left [field] at the time. I got to play more in the second half during that 1960 season.”

DeMaestri in a front row seat to watch teammates Roger Maris and the aforementioned Mantle battle for the single season home run record and a World Series Championship in 1961. Unfortunately for DeMaestri, he spent the majority of the season on the bench, filling a similar reserve role as he did the previous year. Despite his lack of playing time, he enjoyed being a witness to a historical season.

“In 1961 we had Roger and Mickey hitting those home runs,” he said. “That was something that we all looked for everyday we went to the park. It was just a matter of waiting to see who was going to hit the most home runs that day. It was a great season. It was really a lot of fun in New York.”

DeMaestri retired from baseball after the 1961 season, going to work at his beer distributing business for the next 31 years. He sold the company in 1992 to the Eagle Distributing company.

Looking back at his career during our 2008 conversation, DeMaestri, who was known primarily for his defensive abilities, marveled at how the game changed in the field. Infielders now play much deeper than their predecessors, something he attributed to artificial turf.

“I don't think you could play that way today on these artificial fields, the ball comes too fast,” he said. “On the grass fields, nobody played back on the outfield grass. Now with the white line on the artificial fields, you look at where some of these guys are playing, these guys are making plays now in the short outfield. We never saw plays like that.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fritz Peterson revisits the Horace Clarke Era in his new book

Fritz Peterson spent almost nine seasons with the New York Yankees playing alongside the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford. Surely playing with those legends would have guaranteed the lefty pitcher a shot of making the playoffs at least once in his career, right? Think again.

Playing with the Yankees from 1966-1974, Peterson endured one of the roughest stretches in Yankees history, as the bulk of his time included pairings with offensive juggernauts such Jerry Kenney, Gene Michael, and Horace Clarke. The latter served as the inspiration for the title of Peterson’s newest book, “When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Era.


Peterson tells the good, the bad, and often the ugly about the myriad of teammates that went through the Yankees revolving doors of the late 60s and early 70s. The book is dotted with often hilarious nuggets about his Yankee brethren ranging from the aforementioned Hall of Famers to obscurities including Alan Closter, Bill Burbach, and Cecil Perkins. These inside baseball stories that he shares gives a glimpse into the hi-jinks that ballplayers often engage in without revealing the personal clubhouse matters that his former mound mate Jim Bouton exposed in “Ball Four.

Fritz Peterson signing a copy of his new book / N. Diunte

Each chapter is set up neatly for each of the nine “innings,” that he played with the Yankees. His offseason tales of his job as an adjunct professor at his alma mater Northern Illinois University, his contract negotiations with the Yankees front office, and his foray into hockey broadcasting serve as digestible buffers in between his narratives about the hodgepodge collection of teammates that comprised the “Horace Clarke Era.”

Listen below to hear Peterson discussing his new book and the likes of teammates Thurman Munson and Mel Stottlemyre.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Johnny Gray, 87, fond teammate of Roger Maris

Johnny Gray, a veteran of four major league seasons with the Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Philadelphia Phillies in the 1950s, passed away May 21, 2014 in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 87.
 
Gray starred in three sports at West Palm Beach High School before he entered the United Stated Army during World War II. Upon his discharge, he enrolled at Rollins College, where his play for their baseball team eventually earned him entry into their Hall of Fame in 1979.

Johnny Gray / Baseball-Almanac.com
The New York Yankees signed Gray in 1950 and it immediately paid dividends, as he posted a 10-4 record for their Class C team in Amsterdam, N.Y. Gray reached as high as Triple-A with the Yankees in 1953, before he was included in a massive 11-player deal at the end of the 1953 season with the Athletics. The major chip in that exchange was Gray’s Kansas City Blues teammate, first baseman Vic Power.

“Vic was always a happy-go-lucky guy,” Gray said in a 2010 interview. “He was easy to get along with. He was a great club man; there were no two ways about that.”

Leaving the crowded Yankees system opened the door for Gray to the major leagues. He made his major debut on July 18, 1954, pitching 4.1 innings in a loss to the Chicago White Sox. He struggled with his control during the season, finishing with a 3-12 record in 18 games.

Gray stayed with the Athletics in 1955, making the move with the club from Philadelphia to Kansas City, returning him to familiar grounds from his minor league days.

“I didn’t mind it much because I had been with the [Kansas City] Blues before,” he said.

The Athletics sold Gray to the Cleveland Indians in 1956, where they sent him to their Triple-A team in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis club breezed through the entire American Association with a 92-62 record, assisted by Gray’s 10 wins as both a starter and reliever. Continuing their dominance, they swept the Rochester Red Wings in the 1956 Junior World Series, 4-0.

As much as winning the championship was an exhilarating experience for Gray, his most cherished memory of that 1956 minor league season was the relationship he developed with a rookie outfielder named Roger Maris.

“One of the best ballplayers I ever played with in my life,” he said. “I can tell you this in all honesty, if you owned a business and you have to go out of town … and you couldn’t get back for three or four months, the guy that you would want is Roger Maris.

“If you left that business with him and came back, it would be twice the size. That was his attitude. I roomed with him in Indianapolis. He came to the ballpark to play. If you had nine guys that took the same attitude, you would have a club that would have never lost.”

The well-traveled Gray played winter ball in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Not only did the wide exposure allow him to fine tune his pitching, it allowed him to develop an appreciation for the passion the fans had for the game.

“They take baseball much more serious in Latin America than they do here,” he said. “They love it. I can remember when I was in Cuba they would sing and have a band for one team. I loved it because they had the name for baseball fans in South America and it sure fit, ‘fan├íticos.’”

Gray made it back to the major leagues in 1957 with the Indians, and played a handful of games with the Phillies in 1958. He continued to play at the Triple-A level until hanging it up for good in 1960. He finished his major league career with a 4-18 record with a 6.18 ERA in 48 games.

In his post-baseball playing days, Gray became an avid golfer and managed an apartment complex in Florida.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Jim Gentile Interview | Winning the 1961 American League RBI crown almost 50 years later

At age 76, Jim Gentile now owns his rightful share of the 1961 RBI crown due to the work of some faithful researchers. No, the Orioles did not put Gentile in the way-back machine to have him add to his league-leading RBI total in 1961; however, SABR member Ron Rakowski discovered the official scorer of the July 5, 1961 game between the Indians and Yankees erroneously gave Roger Maris two RBIs instead of the one that he earned that day.

Jim Gentile / Topps

Forty-nine years later the change has become official, much to Gentile's chagrin.

“Well, I wish it would have happened 49 years ago, but you know I guess they have these people that go back and check things," Gentile said via telephone from his home in Edmond, Oklahoma. "I was told of this 15 years ago, but nothing was ever done. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it. A sportswriter told me that he had gone back, checked, and found where the error was made, the scorekeeper sent in two instead of one. I said, 'Well that's fine, but there is nothing you can do about that now.' I guess they decided to change it. It's nice, nice for my kids and grandkids. They can look it up years from now and say that my granddad did something.”

Nineteen-sixty-one holds a special place for baseball fans, as Roger Maris made baseball history when he surpassed Babe Ruth's single-season home run record with 61 round-trippers. For Gentile, it earmarked a career year after toiling in the minor leagues.

“It seemed like just about everything clicked," he said. "It seemed like when I hit a ball, it went out of the park. Everything was going right.”

With six players hitting over 40 home runs that season, some fans speculated that the American League expansion caused his surge in power. Gentile strongly refutes that claim.

“People asked me over the years about the home runs [that season], and that it was on the account of the league being expanded with L.A., it made the pitching easier. For years, I said, 'Maybe you're right, I don't know.' Now I tell them, 'If six guys hit over 40 homers and the six are all home run hitters, now the seventh place home run hitter should be hitting in the 30s right?' Has anyone checked to see who that was? It was Bob Allison, he hit 29. I think he hit 25-30 home runs every year. If it was so easy to hit, why wasn't he in the 30s or other guys in the 30s? It just happened that those six had career years more or less. It was a career year for Maris, right. I asked a sportswriter, 'If the seventh hit 28, how come there was nobody who hit over 30 that year?'”

Gentile had a long climb to the big leagues, starting out as a pitcher and first baseman in Class C Santa Barbara after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. He quickly discovered that there was a tremendous difference in having success as a pitcher in professional baseball compared to facing high school lineups.

“I signed in 1952 out of high school," he said. "I got a good bonus as a pitcher. I wasn't a pitcher. I could throw hard. I didn't know anything about a curveball. In high school, you know you could throw hard and get away with it. They sent me to Santa Barbara. I didn't do well as a starter. I did better as a reliever and I still only had a three-something ERA. The next year they asked me if I wanted to come back as a first baseman or pitcher. I told them I would come back as a first baseman.”

After a few seasons of leading his clubs in home runs and RBIs, Gentile thought that management would deem him worthy of a look in Brooklyn. He recalled a spirited exchange with general manager Buzzie Bavasi that was typical of an executive attempting to shuffle a crowded minor league system.

"In 1955 they send me to Class AA Mobile," Gentile recalled. "I lead the league in RBIs, hit 28 homers and batted .290. I go to Spring Training in 1956 and they send me to Double-A again — Fort Worth! I asked Buzzie why. These are the things they tell you. He said, 'You played in the Southern League and they use a 97 ball.' And I said, 'Yeah?' And he said, 'Well that ball takes off.' So after three years, I'm a little cocky, I say, 'Look, I'm going to hit 25-35 every place I play.' Buzzie said, 'Well at Forth Worth, you won't because the wind blows in over right field, you won't hit it.' He made a deal, for every home run that I hit over 25, he would give me $100 and every point that I hit over .300 he would pay me $100. I hit .296 but I hit 40 home runs. He paid me the $1,500!”

The next season held tremendous significance for both Gentile and the New York baseball faithful. Nineteen-fifty-seven marked the last season that the Dodgers and Giants would call New York their home. For Gentile, it was the humble beginnings of a nine-year big league career.

“They brought me up in 1957," he said. "I was sitting in my locker after infield and all of a sudden, the captain Reese came up to me and said, 'Diamond, you're playing.' I said 'What!?' He said, 'Yeah Diamond, you're playing today.' We were playing the Phillies and Robin Roberts. First time up, I was safe on an error. The second time up, we were ahead by one and I hit my first home run off of him, upper deck center field in Ebbets Field. Years later in Baltimore, someone made a pencil drawing of Roberts pitching and he signed it for me and said, 'So you won't forget who you hit your first home run off of.' I have it hanging in my office.”

Gentile had another cup of coffee in 1958 with the newly minted Los Angeles Dodgers but didn't fare well in the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum. By that point, he sensed that a change of scenery was imminent.

“I knew the handwriting was on the wall," he said. "I was hoping they were going to trade me.”

The Dodgers almost granted his wish during the following spring training. He recounted an exchange with Bavasi that had him set to go to the Chicago White Sox until Bill Veeck pulled the plug at the final hour.

“In 1959, he traded me to the White Sox," Gentile said. "He told me, 'Bill Veeck took over the White Sox, and he wanted to trade for you. When we go to Chicago, you come with us on the Brooklyn plane.' That day, I'm sitting in the lobby at Vero Beach and my bags are packed. Max Macon, the manager of St. Paul walks by and says, 'Where are you going?' I said, 'Buzzie told me to take the Dodger plane, I'm going to Chicago.' He said, 'No, I was just talking to Buzzie, and Veeck says he doesn't want to make the trade until he really has control of the club, so you are supposed to work out with us until the trade is made.' Well, no trade ever came around and I spent the whole year at St. Paul. The thing that got me was that in 1959 when I didn't get traded, the White Sox and Dodgers were in the World Series. I was sitting home thinking, I was supposed to be with one of them!”

At the end of the 1959 season, Gentile finally was able to move on, via a trade to the Baltimore Orioles. This too wasn't without a hitch, which seemed to be a constant in Gentile's career until this point.

“Instead of trading me outright, they traded me on a look-see, a 30-day look," he said. "If I don't make it, I come back and they get $25,000 back. We had five guys at first base, Boog Powell an 18-year-old phenom, Walt Dropo, Bob Boyd, Johnny Powers, and me.”

Amidst all of the competition, Gentile got off to a slow start in spring training. He thought for sure that he was going back to the Dodgers.

“I had a terrible spring and the night before they were going to tell us who was going to Baltimore, Sparky Anderson called me," Gentile recalled. "He was managing Toronto. We were talking and he said, 'Jim, the Dodgers feel they're going to get a hard-hitting first baseman back in a couple of days.' I said, 'Pardon, that's me!'

"He asked if I wanted to play for him, as long as there were no tantrums or tearing up clubhouses. I told him I'd play for him, but with eight years in the minors, I'm probably going to be labeled as a career minor leaguer. I'd play one year and then I'd like to try to go to Japan. For some reason, Paul Richards then calls me into his office and says, 'Son, you can't be as bad as you look. You have 208 home runs in seven years, with that power, I really need you on first base. You only have 36 times at bat in three years with the Dodgers. I'm going to give you 150 times at bat. On the 29th day, if you are hitting, you stay with me, if not, I'm going to send you back to the Dodgers.' Once the season started, things started to click."

Gentile finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to teammate Ron Hansen. Years removed his playing days, fans still call him “Diamond Jim,” the nickname Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella gave him. Gentile explained how the named followed him throughout his career.

“Roy Campanella gave it to me in Japan," he said. "I led the club in everything. The Stars and Stripes asked Campanella, 'How about this Italian kid?' He replied, 'He's a diamond in the rough.' I came to Spring Training next year and Charlie "The Brow" the clubhouse guy had a big sign over my locker that read, 'Welcome home Diamond Jim, Ichiban #1.' In 1961, we went to Minneapolis, and the clubhouse boy who was with me at St. Paul is now in the visitors' clubhouse. He's got a sign over my locker that read, 'Welcome home Diamond Jim.' I went out and hit grand slams in the first and second innings and the name stuck from there.”

While Gentile is enjoying the revived interest in his career and his “new” record, the former All-Star is still trying to keep his place in the history books within the proper perspective.

“I never considered myself in Mickey's status," he said. "I was just a mediocre ballplayer. I could hit the long ball, but I wasn't going to hit .350. In my nine years, I hit .260. That was pretty good for a long ball hitter. It [1961] was a great year for me, and to be in that category with those guys, it's quite a thrill. I'm very happy they found that RBI, but with the oil spills and whatnot, why are they worried about that RBI? It doesn't diminish Roger Maris' year in any way, it just gives my grandkids something to talk about.”