How would you feel if you had qualified for a performance bonus at your job, but nobody recognized you’d met your goal until half a century later? Just ask former baseball pro Jim Gentile.
Jim Gentile was a slugging first baseman of the 1950s who had the misfortune of being signed to the Dodgers organization at a time when perennial all-star Gil Hodges had a lock on the first base position. Gentile spent several years in the Dodgers’ minor league system with little opportunity to play for the big club until he was finally traded to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1959 season.
Gentile had a few solid seasons as a full-time player in Baltimore, including a monster year in 1961 when he hit .302 with 46 home runs and 141 RBI. Unfortunately for Gentile, a few other players had monster years in 1961 as well, so he didn’t lead the league in any offensive category: He was fifth in batting average (far behind Norm Cash’s impressive .361), finished third in the home run race behind the Yankees’ Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle (the former of whom broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record that year with 61), and was one RBI shy of Maris’ league-leading total of 142.
But … thirty-four years later, in 1995, a researcher discovered that Maris had erroneously been credited with an extra RBI, which meant that Gentile had actually tied for the American League lead in that category in 1961:
Ron Rakowski, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, maintains that Maris mistakenly was credited with an extra RBI July 5 against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium. Therefore, Rakowski says, Gentile and Maris should be co-leaders at 141.
In the third inning, with Tony Kubek on first, Maris singled to right. Third baseman Bubba Phillips took the throw from Willie Kirkland, then threw to first trying to catch Maris rounding the base. Phillips’ throw went into the seats, allowing Kubek to score. Maris later hit a bases-empty homer, but the official scorer reported two RBIs for him, one on Phillips’ error that enabled Kubek to score.
Reached for comment, Gentile recognized that Major League Baseball doesn’t necessarily adjust its record books when statistical discrepancies are found many years after the fact. And, he wryly noted, he might have received an extra $5,000 in pay if the correct RBI totals had been reported back in 1961:
“After 34 years, no one is likely to change it,” said Gentile, who lives in Edmond, Okla., and helps conduct the Orioles Fantasy Camp as well as baseball camps for youngsters in Oklahoma. “Well, maybe it’s worth an asterisk.”
“I wish I’d known that then,” said Gentile, whose 141 are an Orioles record. “The next winter, [general manager] Lee MacPhail said if I had led the league in RBIs, that alone would have been worth an extra $5,000.”
Laughing, Gentile added, “Maybe I should write the Orioles a letter.”
But … another fifteen years later, in 2010, the corrected statistic was finally recognized, and Gentile became the official American League co-leader in RBI for 1961.
Gentile received another boost in August 2010, when — nearly fifty years late — the Orioles came through and presented him with a check for $5,000 in recognition of his newfound status:
It took almost 50 years, and there was no interest added. But a promise is a promise, and Jim Gentile finally got his $5,000 bonus from the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles honored Gentile, now 76, for his achievement before their game at Camden Yards on [Aug. 6]. Andy MacPhail, the Orioles’ president of baseball operations whose father made that long-ago promise, presented him with a $5,000 check.
It should be noted that no “promise” had actually been made to Gentile back in 1961, nor did his contract for that year include any clause calling for payment of a $5,000 bonus if he led the league in RBI. According to Gentile, the Orioles’ general manager merely quipped to him during the next year’s salary negotiations that Gentile’s being the league leader in the RBI category might have prompted the club to offer him a somewhat higher salary for 1962.
Nonetheless, Gentile didn’t appear to have fared too badly in the pay department. According to a Feb. 14, 1962, report in The Sporting News, Gentile’s 1962 salary of $30,000 was double his 1961 figure.