An Ode to Gil Hodges
Yesterday was opening day and baseball is again on my TV screen. Spring is in the air (well, summer here in LA – it was 90 degrees!), but it was cold and damp in New York and, as the Yankees played the Tigers, you could see the pitchers’ breath…
Ah, baseball in New York. The game’s not the same for me since I moved to LA. I no longer live minutes away from Shea (yeh, I know, Shea’s gone… but NuShea is right next door) and it’s harder to walk down memory lane and cling to the Mets as a substitute for Brooklyn in a town where baseball fans leave the stadium in the 7th inning to ‘beat the traffic’...even if it’s a tie game!!! Really!!! The LA Dodgers just don’t cut it for me. I know the Dodger players didn’t betray me – the owners did – but it ain’t Dodger blue unless it’s Dodger blue in Brooklyn.
If you grew up in NY in the ‘50s and rooted for Brooklyn, “Wait ‘til next year” was your mantra. It was a heartbreaking agony as I sat on my father's lap while he read aloud the sports pages … the pain of being a fan relived through the vivid prose of the sportswriter, back when sports writers still dabbled in “vivid.”
Finally, in l955, we were vindicated. A miracle had happened! “Next year” had come. The aging Bums, led by Robinson, Snider Campanella, Reese and Hodges beat the Bronx Bombers. My father’s Bums – my Bums – were champions of the world! We Brooklyn fans went nuts. We danced in the streets (literally), threw block parties (literally) and swam in ticker tape (not literally). The sportswriters around the country vividly captured the glory and I was so enraptured by their writing, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a Dodger or write about them. I wanted to run like Jackie and write like Red Smith.
Years later, after my father died, I thought how proud he would be to know that his beloved Duke, Pee Wee, Jackie, Roy and Gil were immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Wait. No Gil!!! How frustrated he’d be that the quiet, talented, steady, solid, loyal Gil Hodges – the player who was NEVER booed in Ebbets Field – wasn’t with his teammates in the ‘Hall.’ I can still hear him whispering in my ear, “Don’t worry about first, honey, Gil’s there. Like Coop in 'High Noon,' he’ll stand tall and never let you down.”
Now, I was a mere child when the Bums abandoned its fans for palm trees, but my love for the team has never subsided. The Boys of Summer were my heroes. I had all their baseball cards. They were living legends – and every year after he was eligible, I waited for Gil to enter Cooperstown but, like so many baseball seasons of my childhood (except ’55), I re-entered a “wait ‘til next year” existence. Am I ever going to see a ‘55 miracle again?
A couple of years ago my hopes were heightened when Roger Kahn wrote about this injustice… but, as a Nathan’s hot dog was steaming on my stove that year, its spicy Coney Island smell making my mouth water as the new inductees’ names were announced, it became apparent that not even Kahn could convince the voters to let Gil in the “Hall.” I was so heartbroken, I lost my appetite.
And here we are in 2011 and Gil is still forgotten. Where was the man who revolutionized play at first base and, during his 18 year career, averaged 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for TEN consecutive years, had a lifetime batting average of .273, w/ 370 home runs-- the man who turned the “Amazin’ Mets” into world champions… the man who has schools named after him – even a bridge!!! Where was Gil Hodges?! It’s not fair! How often does a girl have to say, “Wait ‘til next year?”
The Baseball Hall of Fame rules state that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Gil Hodges had all those qualities. He was a man of character who exemplified what’s good about America – what’s good about us. How can a player w/ so much ability to inspire such faith NOT be in the Hall? As debates over Peter Rose still wage and debates that I’m sure will arise when all the ‘steroid-ed up’ home-run record breakers become eligible, I can only hope that next year’s voting panel remembers how much talent, class and integrity Gil Hodges brought to the game of baseball as a man and as a player.
Wait ‘til next year!