Gil Hodges, a Dodgers star and Mets manager, was best viewed overall

They were sons of the 1920s, teenagers from Indiana when Brooklyn came to call them. Gil Hodges of Petersburg was about three years old...

They were sons of the 1920s, teenagers from Indiana when Brooklyn came to call them. Gil Hodges of Petersburg was about three years older than Carl Erskine of Anderson. One day in 1950, they shared an afternoon for the ages: four homers for Hodges and a full game – with four hits at home – for Erskine. The pitcher was friendly with the puncher and his family.

“I knew his brother and I knew his father,” Erskine said by phone from Indiana Monday. “All three men died from the same heart problem. It was rare, but one of the tallest and strongest men on the team was Hodges, and yet his heart wasn’t strong and it took him too early in life.

Hodges was just 47 when he died at Easter in 1972 in West Palm Beach, Fla., After a round of golf with his Mets coaches during spring practice. Erskine will be 95 on December 13, one of only two living Dodgers – along with Roger Craig – who played for the 1955 World Series winners. Their candle flickers, but their legend burns brighter now. Hodges is a Hall of Fame player.

He did so on Sunday when a 16-person panel finally delivered a verdict different from all the others. Denied for 15 years by writers, and again by several iterations of the Veterans Committee, Hodges will finally have a plaque in Cooperstown, NY

“It’s a big, big thing that has happened for our family,” Gil Hodges Jr. said on Monday. “We’re all so glad mum got to see it, at age 95. It was the perfect moment.”

Joan Hodges, Gil’s widow, rode with him on Broadway in an open convertible in October 1969, duct tape swirling like snowfall. That World Series triumph, as manager of the Miracle Mets, was one of three for Hodges. He also helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win a championship in 1959, his last big year as a player.

Hodges averaged 30 homers and 101 RBIs per season from 1949 to 1959. He hit 370 total homers, and in May 1963, when Hodges retired, only two right-handed hitters (Jimmie Foxx and Willie Mays) had had more circuits. There are now over 40 right-handers ahead of Hodges.

His fielding also set him apart. The Golden Gloves were first introduced in 1957 – the Dodgers last year in Brooklyn and Hodges’ 10th full season – and Hodges won the top three. He also didn’t win on name recognition.

“A lot of the first basemen are good with the glove; Ted Kluszewski, for example, was an outstanding first baseman, but compared to Hodges he didn’t have the lineup, ”Erskine said. “Gil could go very far. He had been a catcher at one point, so he was used to lining cavities in front of home plate. He charged on a bunt, lined up the bunt, turned and thrown from the catcher to second and nailed the runner. I’ve never seen another first baseman who would even try this. But he was nimble and he had good hands.

Hodges may have had the most massive hands in baseball. That’s what Roger Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer”, at least, confirming it with this quip from shortstop Pee Wee Reese: “Gil wears a glove on first base because it’s on the fashion. With those hands, he doesn’t really need them.

Hodges’ case for Cooperstown had long been puzzled. He was gaining ground on the writers’ ballot before he died, then spent more than a decade in a waiting pattern, with 49 to 63 percent of the vote. Historically, nearly every candidate for that much support ends up getting in, but the committees had never pushed Hodges past the 75 percent threshold.

The 1993 vote was particularly cruel. Roy Campanella, Hodges’ wheelchair-bound Brooklyn teammate who would die that summer, was unable to attend the meeting in person and was not allowed to vote by phone. The family was crushed, at least for the time being.

“It hurt a little bit because we had the 12th vote,” said Gil Jr. “But you know what? At the end of the day it was still the same. We just went and walked on.

One problem for Hodges was that applicants are meant to be judged on a playing or managerial career, not both. Strictly interpreted, Hodges’ 1969 title with the Mets therefore could not have pushed him beyond the limit. But that achievement is an integral part of its history, and its players have long given Hodges credit for skillfully using actors and insisting on a clean style of play.

After the Mets beat Atlanta in the 1969 National League Championship Series, outfielder Cleon Jones recalled a few years ago, the Braves’ Hank Aaron warned a Baltimore scout that the favorite Orioles could be. in trouble.

“If you’re not playing the best baseball you’ve played all year, you’re going to be beaten,” Jones said, recalling Aaron’s post. “They are a good team, they don’t make mistakes and they do whatever it takes to win.”

Jones continued, “And I attribute that to Gil Hodges. If it had been someone else – Yogi Berra or Wes Westrum or even Casey Stengel as a manager, you wouldn’t be talking about the 69 Mets. We won thanks to our leader, who was Gil Hodges, because he instilled that kind of attitude in the baseball club and he didn’t allow us to make mistakes.

Hodges ‘teammates in Brooklyn didn’t expect him to be successful, Erskine said, because he was so calm, never prone to temper tantrums – the opposite, in other words, of the Orioles’ Earl Weaver. A manager without a “powerful personality,” as Erskine put it, was somewhat rare.

“But if you talk to someone who played for him as a manager, like Tom Seaver with the Mets, he said, ‘Hodges was calm, but he had a look that could burn your shorts. said Erskine. “So if he gave you that look, he had nothing to say.” He wasn’t a screaming guy, but he gave you a look and you could already tell.

The Mets couldn’t build on their championship under Hodges. They finished 83-79 in each of the next two seasons, placing third each time. Ed Kranepool, their first baseman, insisted on Monday that the Mets would have won “many, many more pennants” if Hodges had lived. But of course, there is no way to find out.

Chances are, Hodges would have accepted his Hall of Fame election with understated grace, not wanting much noise. He built a legacy and raised a family in New York City, but he was in Indiana through and through.

“Down to earth people – that was his background, the way he was raised,” Erskine said. “Humility was part of his life. It was as natural as breathing. So that was kind of his trademark, and it was a good brand. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gil Hodges, a Dodgers star and Mets manager, was best viewed overall
Gil Hodges, a Dodgers star and Mets manager, was best viewed overall
Newsrust - US Top News
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