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.