Quiet, strong in will, good natured, a man of his convictions, Gil Hodges was loved by his teammates and beloved by Brooklyn fans. The memory of this wonderful ballplayer and most importantly, wonderful man still lingers in the borough of Brooklyn more than 30 years after his death. His story coincided with the story of a family of people and fans that lived within and around the confines of Ebbets Field. Born April 4th, 1924 in Princeton, Indiana, Gil was only nineteen when he came up for a one game appearance at third base near the end of the '43 season. The unimpressive first game stint included two strikeouts and a walk. Gil then joined the United States Marines, serving in the Pacific. The Marines no doubt helped mold Gil's already incredible resolve and will to succeed.
Returning in 1947 as a catcher, he was stuck on the depth chart behind Bruce Edwards and soon to be star Roy Campanella. This necessitated a move to first base, a position he would make his home for the next 16 seasons. Gil was a model of consistency, collecting 100 RBI or more in 7 straight seasons. He was a dead-pull hitter, perfect for the band box known as Ebbets Field. He was so well liked and respected, that it was claimed that he was the only Dodger to never have been booed at the Polo Grounds. When he went hitless during the World Series one year, priests said masses for him in hopes that it would break his slump.
Manager Leo Durocher said, "With my catching set, I put a first baseman's glove on our other rookie catcher, Gil Hodges, and told him to have some fun. Three days later, I looked up and, wow, I was looking at the best first baseman I'd seen since Dolf Camilli."
Hodges reminded many people of another hometown player, the great Lou Gehrig, because he was quiet, big and strong and a very gentle person. His character and personality were the type that commanded respect. He was loved and respected by friend and foe alike. As a manager, his players would do just about anything for him.
Gil, who was referred to as
"The Quiet Man" on occasion, was given the moniker, "Miracle
Worker" after he piloted the '69 Mets to the World Championship.
He managed the Mets for 2 more seasons before dying from a heart attack
on April 2, 1972 in West Palm Beach Florida. He died after finishing
a round of golf during spring training. The baseball world and New York
in particular went into mourning for a beloved hero, a man from Indiana
that they made their own.