If you ever wanted to see what a “lost” great season looks like, take a gander at Jim Gentile’s line from 1961 sometime.

We’ll do just that in a second, but first, a bit of background …

After a long run through the Dodgers system and a smattering of games in the Big Leagues with Brooklyn and then Los Angeles, Gentile finally got a new lease on baseball life when L.A. traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in October 1959.

The O’s wasted little time installing Gentile as their starting first baseman, and he rewarded them with 21 home runs and 98 RBI to go with a solid .292 batting average during his age-26 season in 1960.

That performance helped Baltimore jump from sixth (in 1959) to second in the American League, and the future looked bright.

It was, and it didn’t take long to materialized.

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In 1961, Gentile put it all together at the plate, walloping 46 homers, driving in a league-leading 141, and batting .302. Even scored 96 times, himself.

If you have a more Sabermetrics bent, you’ll surely appreciate his 1.069 OPS and 187 OPS+ marks from that summer.

As a team, the Orioles jumped from 89 wins to 95. With that sort of improvement and firepower, you would have thought Baltimore would be the toast of baseball.

The problem for Gentile and the O’s, of course, was that 1961 was the summer of the the home run chase, when New York Yankees teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle served early notice that they intended to make an assault on Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60 dingers.

The ensuing two-man race captivated the country and made everything else second-page news.

In the end, of course, Maris got the record (61), while Mantle fell a bit off the pace (54). Their fireworks propelled the Yanks to a 109-53 record.

That would have been bad enough for the Orioles’ profile, but the Detroit Tigers won 101 games, relegating Baltimore to third place.

And Gentile couldn’t even claim third place in the home race as his alone, since Minnesota slugger Harmon Killebrew also tagged 46, and so did Orlando Cepeda in the National League.

Put it all together, and the 1962 Bazooka Jim Gentile card pretty much sums things up for the slugger and his team.

After all, with just 45 cards in the set, you know Gentile had to be something special just to get included … had to have put up a big 1961 season, at least.

But with a blank back and no statistics on the card front, future generations looking at this pasteboard might forever marvel at just what that claim to fame is.

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