By John Torenli
It took 35 tries when maybe it should have only taken one.
But the late Gil Hodges, a World Series-winning first baseman with the Brooklyn Dodgers and manager of the 1969 Amazin’ Mets, finally got the call his family had been waiting decades for Sunday.
The eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove-winner at first base was one of six players selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he, Buck O’Neill, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bud Fowler will be inducted on July 24.
Though Hodges died while managing a spring training game for the Mets in 1972 at the age of 47, his family never stopped hoping, believing and pushing veterans committee members to consider and eventually induct one of the key cogs in Brooklyn’s 1955 world championship team.
“When I received the phone call and I heard, ‘I am very happy to tell you,’ I was hysterical. I cried terribly, because I honestly couldn’t believe it was really happening,” said Hodges’ eldest daughter, Irene, on Monday.
“I hadn’t even told my mother about the voting because I didn’t want her to be disappointed,” she added of 95-year-old Joan Lombardi, Hodges’ widow. “And I didn’t want her to think about it… I said ‘Mommy they want to tell you that Daddy is voted into the Hall of Fame.’ And she put her hand on her chest and said ‘Really? He really did it? Oh Gil, I’m so happy.’”
Hodges belted 370 career homers and was considered one of the only players who was never booed at Ebbetts Field before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
The Princeton, Indiana native and long-time Brooklyn resident drove in at least 102 runs a season from 1949-1955, a span of seven seasons that culminated in the Dodgers finally toppling the hated Yankees in seven games in the 1955 World Series, our borough’s last major pro sports title.
After retiring from playing in 1963 as a member of the neophyte Mets, Hodges managed the Washington Senators from 1963 to 1967.
In 1968, he took the Mets job and one year later guided the franchise to its first-ever world championship, beating the favored Baltimore Orioles in five tidy games.
Hodges’ son, Gil Jr., has spent most of his adult life waiting for this moment. He also campaigned throughout the years, along with his family, for Sunday’s magical call from Cooperstown.
“Being the only boy I got to travel a lot with him and the Hall of Fame was never a subject again,” Gil Jr. said.
“We’re speaking about someone that was 47 years old (when he died). So no one thinks at 47 that not only your career is coming to an end, but your existence, but he was the type of person who, if he were alive through all of this process through the 30-some odd times… he would have taken each one in in stride. It would have never been anything that he would get upset about.”
Mark Healey, author of Gotham Baseball: New York’s All-Time Team, picked Hodges as the best first baseman in the history of our city earlier this year.
He was also elated that Hodges would finally join former Dodger teammates like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese in Cooperstown this summer.
“I’m incredibly happy that Gil Hodges has finally been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a player, he was a leading man, a strong, silent type who became one of the greatest Brooklyn Dodgers of all time,” Healey told the Eagle.
“As a manager, he built the very foundation of the New York Mets, taking the helm of a hopeless franchise and molding them into the most unlikely world champions in baseball history.”
Though it felt just as unlikely that Hodges would ever get his just due, Brooklyn’s most recent Hall of Famer is on his way to immortality.
Not that he hadn’t already achieved it in our borough and, of course, throughout New York City.
“I can remember once just saying to him, ‘so you think you’re going to be in the Hall of Fame?’ He said, ‘no, not me.’” Irene Hodges related to the Associated Press.
“But he underestimated himself and how good he was.”
So did those with the power to send him to Cooperstown, until Sunday.