Dodgers retire Gil Hodges number against Mets to honor Gil Hodges

Dodgers retire Gil Hodges number against Mets to honor Gil Hodges

LOS ANGELES – Connective tissues stretch across the country and back, linking Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Queens. Over the years, through all the real bounces, bad jumps, and yellowed pages, the content of this baseball triangle remains tightly bound together.

The main characters move away and others emerge, then everything repeats itself. But the strongest and most consistent bond between the Dodgers and Mets remains Gil Hodges, the late newly elected Hall of Famer whose No. 14 was retired by the Dodgers in a pre-game ceremony here. Saturday night.

The Mets retired the same number for Hodges in 1973.

“He was, indeed – I was going to say the wire, but he wasn’t the wire, he was the steel cable,” legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said in a rare phone interview Thursday. .

The Mets franchise and Dodger Stadium both came to life in April 1962, and the former kicks off a 10-day Western swing this weekend with four games at Chavez Ravine. This is a star-studded clash of the two best teams in the National League, but the clubs will briefly put the competition aside to honor Hodges, a player who meant so much to both teams.

Scully, 94, was a rookie broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1950 when he first met Hodges. Neither man at the time could have dreamed that seven years later Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and his New York Giants counterpart Horace Stoneham would assemble their teams and bring the Major League Baseball in California.

With these moves rocking the city, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ lone World Series title of 1955 would become frozen in time. Hearts were breaking, tears were flowing, but after Ebbets Field met the wrecking ball, the Mets quickly emerged. Decades later, the bricks and angles of Citi Field would evoke the spirit of the old Sullivan Place ballpark. Cross-pollination of the Dodgers and Mets would become one of baseball’s constants.

When Jane Forbes Clark, Chair of the Hall of Fame Board of Trustees, and Josh Rawitch, its President, phoned the Hodges family home in Brooklyn in December to break the news of Gil’s induction, it is his daughter Irene who picked up and placed the phone next to it. to his mother. Joan Hodges, 96, isn’t always able to assimilate these days, but she immediately perked up on the phone call. “Oh, Gil? My Gil? Irene remembered her mother saying.

And then this iron steel cable was stretched again. From his home in Los Angeles, Scully rang in congratulations. He had been told just before the news became public.

“It gave me a few moments before the big huzzahs to have some intimate time with the family,” Scully said. “I was so grateful.”

Fittingly, that call was made in an old house on Brooklyn’s legendary Bedford Avenue. After the Hodges family experienced the shock of moving Gil’s job to Los Angeles, and after playing four seasons, ages 34-37, with eroded skills in Southern California, the Mets took him on. brought back to New York in the expansion draft.

So the Hodges family bought a house not far from where Ebbets Field once stood. This is where the family lived when Gil played for the Mets expansion, when he led the Amazin’s to the 1969 World Series title (with former Brooklyn Dodgers Joe Pignatano and Rube Walker on his coaching staff) , and this is where Joan and Irene reside today. .

“It’s really amazing, isn’t it?” said Bobby Valentine, who led the Mets in the 2000 Subway World Series against the Yankees. “That Joanie never left, shopped at the same convenience stores, walked the same streets, went to the same mass all these years? Spectacular.”

As Irene said, “It’s like having a part of your youth with you.

This spirit pervades in so many ways long after Gil died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 47. Volumes have been written about these beloved Dodgers teams – everything from Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer” to Thomas Oliphant’s “Praying for Gil Hodges”. The latter’s name was inspired by a story capturing Hodges’ popularity. With Hodges caught in the throes of a rare crisis, a priest at St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, Father Herbert Redmond, told his congregation, “It’s way too hot for a homily. Keep the commandments and say a prayer for Gil Hodges.

“As a wet-behind-the-ears broadcaster, I looked up to him as a major leaguer, an All-Star, a very talented player,” Scully said. “And then when I got to know him a little bit more, the real Gil Hodges started coming out. I remember one time when the Dodgers played on a really hot day and after the game we went up in a plane and it was Friday and the hostess came down the aisle to serve a steak dinner.

“Being Friday, and a long time ago, maybe in the early 50s, I can hear him and he said, ‘No thanks’. And the hostess said, ‘Mr Hodges, you just played a long game in terrible heat, et cetera, et cetera, you should eat the steak. And he said, ‘No, it’s Friday and I’m way too close to the boss.’ We were at 30,000 feet. But that was just his way. He didn’t climb on a soapbox, he didn’t do anything and he left with a smile. “No , I’m too close to the boss.”

Jay Horwitz, a Mets manager for more than 40 years, said he was struck when he learned how much Hodges had helped Jackie Robinson.

“Pee Wee Reese gets a lot of credit, but I was told that with Gil playing on the same side of the infield as Jackie, he stopped a lot of fights and was the enforcer,” Horwitz said.

Indeed, Scully recalls an incident in St. Louis in which Hodges and Robinson converged on a fake pop fly behind first base and, “from the bleachers, from the top deck, came out a bottle of whiskey.”

The bottle lands between the men, and Scully notices Hodges giving Robinson a little pat on the back, “as if to say, we’re in this together, my friend.”

“If you weren’t focused on the moment, you would have missed it,” Scully said. “I just thought it was so typical of Gil. Whatever he does, if you don’t have your eyes on him, he will have done it and away you go. It’s really his way of playing and his way of life.

At the time, according to Irene Hodges, her father joked to Robinson, “You better watch out, Jackie. They aim at me.

The idyllic days have faded. Robinson was dealt to the Giants after the 1956 season and retired. The Dodgers moved on and an era ended.

“My mother, an Italian from Brooklyn, had never been so far from her parents,” said Irene Hodges. “We lived in LA that first year, I don’t think she unpacked. She really couldn’t do it.

The Metropolitans were an expansion team assigned to New York in 1962 with an overly long nickname and team colors that mixed memories of the Dodgers and Giants. New club chairman George Weiss has worked strategically to fill the expansion roster with familiar names. In addition to Hodges, he nabbed former Brooklyn players Roger Craig and Don Zimmer. And he quickly added Duke Snider, Charlie Neal and Clem Labine.

“It paid off because the Mets were very popular from day one, and that came back to the Dodgers,” said Howie Rose, the Mets broadcaster. “I think the Dodgers and the Giants, in many ways, were training wheels for New York fans.”

It was quite a burden for the Mets to be asked to replace these former legendary teams.

“And dad being drafted by the Mets in the expansion draft, hitting the first home run in their history, that kind of closed that gap,” Gil Hodges Jr. said.

In 1980, Fred Wilpon would buy the team, adding another layer of connective tissue: Wilpon attended Lafayette High School in Brooklyn with Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax and was a rabid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. It was under his leadership that Citi Field opened in 2009 with so many Dodgers-related touches — including the massive Jackie Robinson Rotunda — that some Mets fans complained there were no more winks. in Brooklyn than at the Mets.

The connections would only continue, with Mike Piazza’s Hall of Fame career spanning the franchises and Justin Turner, a crucial member of the current Dodgers squad, having started his career in orange and blue.

Now Steven A. Cohen, who tried to buy the Dodgers in 2012, is calling the Mets shots. In his first public remarks after buying the Mets, he cited the Dodgers as a model of what he hoped the Mets would become. He backed that up by pushing the Mets payroll near the top of the sport.

“They’re going to separate themselves from the pack,” said Valentine, who, in keeping with the connective tissue theme, was once married to a daughter of Ralph Branca, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Kind of like the Dodgers tried to do when they left town, and the Yankees always have.”

Two of Hodges’ adult children — Gil Jr., 72, and Irene, 71 — were at Dodger Stadium Saturday night, as were his grandson, Gil III, two of Irene’s granddaughters and a cousin. And as the videos roll and the lights flash, the iron steel cable that spans decades and miles remains as strong as ever.

“Without a doubt, the 1969 World Series was amazing,” says Irene Hodges of her favorite memory. “Everyone was just thrilled. All of Brooklyn was crazy. It was a wonderful moment. My dad, I think, was a little scared to manage in New York. He knew how good the fans were here, how much they loved him, and he just wanted to do the right thing for them. He wanted to have a successful team. And he did.”

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