April 3, 2011

Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers, my childhood hero

Every year when the calendar turns to April 4, I think of Gil Hodges, slugging first baseman of the Dodgers. He died at age 47, two days shy of his 48th birthday. Today he would have turned 87.

In the spring of 1969, I had sat with him while he watched his son, Gil Jr., play a game at C.W. Post College on Long Island. I told him that I was the school's sports information director and he asked me to sit with him. I did not mention that he was my hero, that I played his position (first base) in Little League, Pony League and on the junior varsity baseball team in high school. His uniform number, 14, is still my lucky number.

Later in the year he would manage the miracle New York Mets to a World Series victory over the highly favored Baltimore Orioles. I had a ticket to game 5 at Shea Stadium, the day the World Series ended.

Vivian and I were strolling the Via Veneto on April 3, 1972. We had purchased a copy of the International Herald Tribune and grabbed a table at a cafe to have breakfast and read the newspaper. A story announced that big Gil had died of a heart attack on April 2 while playing golf with his Mets coaches in West Palm Beach, Florida.

It was even worse than the shock I felt upon learning that Buddy Holly had died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.

These lyrics from American Pie by Don McLean capture my feelings:

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside,
The day, the music, died.


Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

It's wonderful that you had him as your hero through your most formidable years. Nothing better for a boy than a sports hero who is more than just a sports hero. Someone who has a real reason for a boy to look up to him for his whole young life. But the day that dream ends can be shattering. "Something touched you deep inside....", but so lucky to have a young lifetime of memories of looking up to a great man. Between Gil Hodges and Jim Amen, you were in good hands!

Anonymous said...

Gil Hodges was a good choice for someone to look up to. He was a great ballplayer and even better human being.

Thomas Mortensen from Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

Phil Spector (Mr. Hockey USA), Philadelphia

Very nice. By heros here Harry Walker who led the National League in batting in 1947 the first year I followed baseball, and Richie Ashburn. I played center field as a kid, threw right and batted left.

Frank Barning said...

Gary Parker, Georgia

Gil Hodges was my hero!

Mark Rotker said...

I played against his son at Post..he was an 0-for in 2 games. Was drafted 2 years later. Nice for him to have a connection ,but it certainly did work out for Piazza.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

There are not words to describe the way I felt that first week of April in 1972. I think if I had to pick one word it would be ""bewilderment". i felt as though a very close relative had passed away.