I remember sitting in my living room with my parents 49 years ago today and getting the report that Gil Hodges the manager of the Mets was stricken with a fatal heart attack bringing the harsh reality of death front and center in my 11 year old mind.
My parents were deeply affected by it too as the three of us watched together the journey in 1969 that transformed the Mets from lovable losers to World Champions. The tears kept streaming down my face because I would never see either on TV or in person the #14 of Gil Hodges. And every day I cover a Met home game at Citi I go through the Hodges entrance to pick up my credential and even for a brief moment I look at the photos in that room understanding the greatness all over again each day.
For my family Hodges was the connection between the Brooklyn Dodger days and the New York Met days and his presence was like a generation gap filler when we watched the game together as a family. My parents are both gone now but often times they would point to Gil and Tom Seaver when I questioned whether I could accomplish a goal in school or in life. It ALWAYS gave me the impetus to go the extra yard to get to that goal line.
And in that year of 1972, they took me to the opener because they knew I wanted to be there to say my goodbye to Gil Hodges and on the way home, they told me that being sad is OK but the memories of Gil would always be with me whether it was his slow walk to the mound or the shoe polish incident or his belief in his team when most of the experts though they were a joke.
And as I sit here in Washington DC with the postponement of the first 3 games of the season, I thought of Gil Hodges so much today. His presence made all the Met jokes stop and he had a singular purpose win it all and never let that feeling leave his soul. And I can’t tell you how many times I have tapped into that philosophy in my life to get me through a trying time. And I can tell you my Dad passed last Good Friday and that very day I thought of what my parents told me at the 72 Met opener and that very notion helped me keep entrenched in my heart and soul all my parents did for me. And yes it helped me remember the good things about my Dad–not the last few years where dementia tore him to shreds.
I always thought it was very symbolic that Tom Seaver wore #41 and Gil wore #14 making them connected in every way as 2 Ex-Marines who changed the life of EVERY met fan and who shaped me into a person who fights through tough times and ignores the critics continuing to circle the bases till I come home with the winning run.
Putting Gil Hodges in The Baseball Hall of Fame is long overdue and an absolute no brainer. And when that happens, he will once again connect generations. Hodges died from a heart attack and he had suffered a heart issue in September of 1968 in his first year as Manager. On the anniversary of that very day in 1969 the Mets clinched the NL East so despite his heart issues he showed how strong that heart was. It was also a time of severe social unrest in our country when the Mets won 1n 1969 but he united New York with his trek that culminated with a trip up Canyon of Heroes.
That year should be a lesson for all of us–no matter what obstacles you see keep your heart and soul in your goals and you can reach them. Gil did as did all of his Met players. And on this day in 1972 that philosophy did not die–it is in all of our hearts and souls. And Gil Hodges showed us that path. A path that could solve problems, make dreams a reality and help you get everything out of your life that you desire.
He is a shining example of what is good about this game of baseball as the lessons it teaches us stay with us forever. Not a day passes by in my life where I do not think of something Gil Hodges said or did in his tenure as a Met. Maybe the fact he stayed with Tommie Agee even after a horrible 1968 season or his will to take his best hitter in Cleon Jones out of a game for not hustling or presenting a ball with shoe polish on it to turn Game 5 of the World Series from a loss to a Met Crowning Achievement Day. And it helps me put my day in the right direction. Thank you Gil–We Love you and miss you but will NEVER forget you.