James Ruffus Gentry
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 180 lb.
- Debut September 10, 1943
- Final Game May 9, 1948
- Born May 18, 1918 in Daisy Station, NC USA
- Died July 3, 1997 in Winston-Salem, NC USA
In 1939 a 21-year-old 6'1" pitcher Rufe Gentry signed on as a free agent with the class D Landis Senators of the North Carolina State League and spun a 12-6 record with a 3.24 ERA. The Detroit Tigers then signed the righthander to a contract and assigned Rufe to the class D Fulton Tigers of the Kitty League where he went 14-17 with a 4.19 ERA. Rufe moved up to the class B Winston-Salem Twins of the Piedmont League in 1941 and won 14 while losing 18 with a much improved 2.96 ERA.
1942 would find Gentry with the AA Buffalo Bisons of the International League where he went 10-13 with a 5.65 ERA, but he was with Buffalo again in 1943 and came back strong with a 20-16 record, one of those wins being an eleven-inning no-hitter on April 25th, beating the Newark Bears, 1-0. Rufe also had a 2.65 ERA and lead the league in innings pitched with 285 and finish second to Steve Gromek with 185 strikeouts. He would get a late season look by the Detroit Tigers appeared in four games with a 1-3 record and a 3.68 ERA. Two of Rufe's losses were by a 1-0 score.
Gentry's strong showing in 1943 earned him a spot in the Tigers' 1944 starting rotation and the 26-year-old righthander won 12 and lost 14 in 37 appearances, producing a 4.24 ERA. Gentry improved as the season progressed and on September 17th, he just missed no-hitting the Cleveland Indians, allowing two hits in the last of the 9th inning, settling for a two-hit shutout win. The Tigers lost the pennant by one game (88-66 to 89-65) to manager Luke Sewell's St. Louis Browns and Gentry was about to lose a budding baseball career.
There seem to be several opinions as to the Tigers and Gentry's salary disagreement in 1945 but the fact remains that the management and the player could not come to terms and Gentry sat out the season. The Tigers went on to win the American League Pennant and the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. This was in an era where the Major League Baseball contract contained the reserve clause, binding a player to his club in perpetuity, leaving Gentry with very little bargaining power.
Gentry sign with the Tigers in 1946, appearing in only two games and finished up the season with the Buffalo Bisons with a 10 and 8 record and a 5.18 ERA. Rufe sufered another setback when an accident occurred while cleaning his rifle after bird hunting late in the season. This ended his year, but Rufe vowed to come back. By early 1947 his hand was healed but he threw only one-third of an inning for the Tigers in 1947 and on May 6th, he was optioned to the Dallas Eagles of the Texas League, where he responded well, going 12-9 with a 3.41 ERA.
1948 rolled around and the Tigers gave him a four-game look, with no decisions. Rufe's five-year major league career was finished with a 13-17 record in 48 appearances with a 4.37 ERA. Gentry finished up the 1948 season with Buffalo and Dallas and his 10-year run in pro baseball ended in 1949 with the Toledo Mud Hens and the Little Rock Travelers. The record shows that Rufe appeared in 283 minor league contests, winning 96 and losing 103, while pitching 1,617 innings, allowing 1,426 base hits along with 965 base on balls for a career 4.11 ERA.
After baseball Gentry returned to North Carolina, and worked as a brick and stone mason. He and his wife lived on the family's farm, where they raised their son and daughter. Rufe also enjoyed his old pastimes of hunting and fishing, until his death on July 3, 1997, in Winston-Salem, NC.