Hodges Finally Enters The Hall: Worth The Wait

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Cooperstown, NY- Sunday afternoon they came to cheer and support “Big Papi” David Ortiz on the massive lawns of the Baseball Hall of Fame up in Cooperstown, New York. His induction speech being the finale of a long and hot summer day. Thousands of Red Sox fans were out in force, and they were patient.

The late Gil Hodges and that long awaited induction could have been the finale. As it is, it was much too long of a wait for the Hodges family, Brooklyn Dodgers’ fans, and loyal population of the former New York Mets manager who guided those 1969 World Series champions.

It was worth the long wait on those hallowed grounds. It was worth the wait of a long and overdue induction that came to fruition in December and was attributed to the Golden Era Committee.

Regardless, Gil Hodges has his place with other immortals up in Cooperstown, and a committee made sure this day would happen. It wasn’t the right way for the Hodges family to see that name enshrined as a regular voting process could have seen this day sooner.

For years there was that debate about Gil Hodges being worthy of induction. Hope to see this day was fading as quick as a nice summer breeze in upstate New York. There could also be a day for Pete Rose, the all-time baseball hits leader, who is penalized because of implications and guilt of wagering bets as a player and manager.

The Pete Rose debate will continue. The chapter and closure for Hodges, his family, and the 1969 Mets culminated when Irene Hodges, daughter of Gil, was presented with the Plaque. The acceptance speech put everything in perspective.

She said there was that day and asked her father, “Do you think you will ever make into the Hall of Fame? Gil responded and said, “No. Never.”

Irene, though, along with the Hodges family had another opinion after Gil said, “I may be good but those in the Hall of Fame are great players.”

Truth is, though, Gil Hodges was one of those great players with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He hit 361 home runs and had seven consecutive years of driving in 100 or more runs, in an era when doing that was more difficult than what it is today.

Hodges played in seven World Series, winning championships in 1955 and 1959, but is remembered more for managing those “Miracle Mets” that stunned the baseball and sports world in 1969.

But managing a World Series championship team had nothing to do with his playing career. Managing is now part of the criteria for those who have an opportunity to cast a vote as to who qualifies to have their name enshrined in those hallowed halls up in Cooperstown.

But Hodges at the time was the right choice to lead those Mets to glory and fame. Art Shamsky, Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, all members of that Hodges championship team, were smiling and also got their closure in the front row when Irene posed with the plaque.

Jay Horwitz, the head of Mets alumni and longtime media relations director, stood and saw that closure come to fruition. Hodges is a major part of Mets history as much as he was with those “Bums” from Brooklyn, a time when baseball fans in New York had their choice with three baseball teams.

They took a subway to Brooklyn or crossed a bridge from the Bronx to upper Harlem, either taking in the rival NY Giants of the National League or the Yankees of the American League that continued to make baseball history.

Gil Hodges, though, made baseball history and was lost in the shuffle. The Brooklyn Dodgers had more than one Hall of Famer on those teams, including the great Jackie Robinson, who by the way became a great friend of Hodges.

I saw Gil play, I saw him manage those Mets,” said a Brooklyn fan who made the long and anticipated trip to Cooperstown, “And to see this day come, you could have said never. But we are here today and it’s here for Dodgers fans, for Mets fans.”

Number 14 is retired and a part of Mets history, seen with others at Citi Field that symbolizes Gil Hodges and his history of that championship. But it was more than a playing and managing career that was cut short when Hodges passed away from a massive heart attack during spring training in 1972.

Perhaps, Hodges would have continued to make Mets history as some would say the all-time best manager for the franchise. He had the persona, the baseball mind, and a way with his players.

My dad had the most amazing smile,” Irene said. Gil’s widow, Joan, 95, saw the ceremony from her home in Brooklyn, and for years she has been a major advocate of seeing her late husband get his name enshrined.

Irene said her father protected Robinson, during that time of dissention, as the Dodgers kept their focus on winning while dealing with breaking the baseball’s color barrier.

My father made everyone feel comfortable,” she said. “Nothing was more important to my dad than giving Jackie all of his support. We were like family with the Robinsons. Jackie’s kids played in our house. We played in theirs.”

From this perspective, I never witnessed Hodges play, it was before my time. I do remember at 12-years of age watching Gil Hodges at Shea Stadium, make that slow walk from the dugout, and skip over the white chalk line to make a pitching change on the mound.

He would get to the mound, pat his departing pitcher, hold and rub the baseball, then walk slowly back to the dugout, and again, skip over the white line.

I am sure Gil Hodges was thinking about the game at hand and the others he said that were greater than him. Sunday, though, he joined the immortals, and it was worth the wait.

Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com Watch “Sports with Rich” live on Tuesday Nights at 10pm EST on The SLG Network/Youtube with Robert Rizzo Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify under The SLG Network.

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and BoxingInsider.com, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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