Non-Fiction: Sports

Gil Hodges

The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend

Written By: Tom Clavin and Danny Peary

Published By: New American Library

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                In September 2007, just a couple of years before they would tear down my beloved Shea Stadium, I attended my last game at Shea and received a surprise.  It was Gil Hodges Day and members of his family both on and off the field were present in honor of his being inducted into the United States Marine Corps Hall of Fame.  I never got to see Hodges play or manage a team, but I had heard enough and read enough about him to make him one of my baseball heroes - a man who played the game to the utmost of his ability with an integrity matched by few.  Being there to see the Hodges family celebrating such an honor made my sports outing complete.  What could be better...except Gil Hodges getting into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.

                That's right, for all his prowess on the field, his integrity, his works off the field, his management skills and all of the accolades he received before and after his death, Gil Hodges has not been inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, an honor he most definitely deserves.  And I am not alone in this belief.  The writers of a new book about Gil Hodges, Tom Clavin and Danny Peary also share my disbelief that this man could be skipped over for the honor.  I couldn't wait to get my hands on their book, Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend.

                Gil Hodges was born in Indiana, the son of a coal miner and educated wife who coached their children in everything from education to morals to sports.  Gil Hodges was an athlete picking up on just about any sport he was introduced to and excelling at them all, but his big break came in 1943 when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  His full time baseball career was put on hold when he enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II.  Returning to baseball in 1947 and starting as a catcher on a team that now included Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo and more.  He moved to first base to make room for Roy Campanella in the catcher's spot and, although he would play a number of positions in his career as needed, is best remembered for his prowess covering first base.

                A victim of the inevitable slump that occurs with many long ball hitters, Hodges nonetheless was able to accumulate quite a hitter's résumé, creating and breaking many a batting record during his playing years.  He was awarded the first three Gold Gloves that ever existed for his position, would be elected to eight All-Star Games, hit for the cycle in one game, hit four homeruns in another, had five straight seasons with more than thirty homeruns, eleven straight with twenty homeruns, had a record for most grand slams hit by a player and received the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1959.  Oh, and did I mention that he was with the Dodgers when they won the pennant seven times and he was there when they won the World Series in 1955 and 1959.  And he did all of this during a playing career that spanned from 1943-1963.

                But if that wasn't enough, he then became a manager, helping to raise the Washington Senators from the bottom of the league to a more respectable record, giving the team's players the confidence they needed to move on to bigger and better things.  By 1968, he had moved back to New York as manager of the New York Mets, and it was there that baseball saw what an amazing manager Gil Hodges could be, given the proper tools.  In 1968, the team improved from its laughable last place status, but in 1969, the Mets won it all.  The miracle Mets did something no one ever believed possible: they won the World Series. 

                Could Hodges have brought them another series pennant?  Possibly, but his penchant for holding things in and his smoking brought things to an untimely end in 1972 when he died of what is officially ruled a heart attack during the off season, but evidence proves now may have been a stroke.  Who knows what this amazing man, to whom many looked up to as a father-figure and many others counted as one of their closest friend, could have done had his life not been cut short just days before his 48th birthday? 

                A respectable man with such integrity who would rather lose a game than cheat and kept his players respectable as well.  A man known for his strength as well as his compassion, Gil Hodges more than deserves the honor of being inducted into Cooperstown.  He should have been inducted a long time ago and this book proves that point extremely well, delving into his baseball life and his private life.  Gil Hodges by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary is a captivating read that shows the man for who he was.  They don't put him on a pedestal, although many a fan would be happy to do so.  They just show him for who he was, a very private man who held to much inside him, was as protective of his family at home as he was of his family on the field, was a natural at sports and a compassionate man both on and off the field.

                In an era when we are arguing whether players who "juiced" belong in the Hall of Fame, should there be any question that Gil Hodges has more than met the requirements of a Cooperstown Hall of Fame member?  The feats he accomplished in his time both as a player and a manager should be all that is needed to get him in and the folks in charge of voting him in ought to be ashamed of themselves for not having already done so.  Clavin and Peary's book tells the tale of Gil Hodges from beginning to end and eloquently states their case for Hodges being in Cooperstown in the very last chapter.  Perhaps someone from the election committee should use it as research this time around.

                Any fan of Gil Hodges or classic baseball would be proud to own a copy of Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend.  Having always admired the man, I can now say I know more about him than I ever did before and his status in my eyes has been elevated that much higher.  Gil Hodges was one of the good guys in baseball and this book is a refreshing look at what a baseball player and hero should be.


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