If Joan Hodges is stepping to the podium in Cooperstown this summer, it would be justice. At the very least, it’s Flashback Friday at Faith and Fear in Flushing.
Thank you Commissioner Selig, members of the board of the Hall of Fame, all of the Hall of Famers here today and all of you who made the trip upstate.
I can’t tell you how much this day means to me and would have meant to Gil. He never played or managed for individual accolades, but I know he would have deeply appreciated this honor.
It’s been 35 years since we lost Gil. Thirty-five years since that awful April afternoon in Florida in 1972. I was beginning to think he’d been forgotten. I’ve been reminded since his election, however, that I was wrong. And it’s not just because he was, at last, elected to this wonderful Hall of Fame.
I’ve been reminded over and over again by the fans and by the press and by a lot of people who love baseball that they’ve never forgotten my husband. Ever since the veterans committee took their special second vote last spring and elected Gil Hodges to the Hall, I can’t tell you how many Mets fans and Dodgers fans and just baseball fans have come up to me and said just the most lovely things about him.
I have to admit I’d been disappointed all those times Gil came close but never made it. Maybe I was so wrapped up in my disappointment that I hadn’t noticed that the love for Gil was always there, that it never dissipated, especially in New York where the memory of Gil remains so cherished. If I took a step back, I think I would have seen that no plaque, even one as meaningful as the one you’ve unveiled today, could affirm that feeling toward Gil as well as the love and respect Gil still brought out in people.
Then again, we always said “Wait ’til Next Year” in Brooklyn, and when next year arrived in 1955, I know we were a lot happier, so it does mean a great deal to me and our whole family that Gil has been acknowledged for all time here in Cooperstown.
Of course I wish he could be with us today. Tony and Cal, my husband never had a chance to see you play, but I think he would have loved the way you went about your business, bringing so much grace and dignity to baseball. He would have welcomed the chance to manage both of you or, if he were a little younger or you had been born a little earlier, played with you. That’s no knock on Pee Wee or Carl, you understand. Gil always loved his teammates.
Ron, Gil thought the world of you as a competitor, even in 1969 when you were clicking your heels in those heated games between the Mets and the Cubs. He’d be thrilled to be sharing this day with you, too, and would probably be surprised that you hadn’t been on this stage sooner.
You fellows who helped put Gil in with your votes were men Gil admired no end. Sandy, I’ll never forget Gil telling me about that great young lefty the Dodgers brought up and how if he ever got his control that he’d be something else. I think he was right. Willie, Gil never got tired of watching you play, even if your being on the Giants didn’t make our lives any easier back in Brooklyn. And Frank, I think Gil would be very proud that you helped bring baseball back to Washington these last few years. Not too many people remember that the Senators were Gil’s first managing job. It would have made him smile to know that such a great player and competitor had inherited his old job.
Tom, Gil always knew you’d be here one day. I’ll never forget the beautiful speech you made when you were inducted and how you singled out Gil as such a big influence on your career. I’ll also always appreciate all the wonderful things you said when you were broadcasting Mets games, helping to keep his memory alive. To you and the Wilpons and the entire Met family, I want to thank you for never forgetting Gil. You held a night in his memory, you voted him the team’s all-time manager and you’ve been nothing but royal in your treatment of me. I can’t express nearly enough my appreciation for all the warmth you’ve bestowed on us. He’d be so pleased to see the Mets doing as well as they are again, to watch Willie Randolph, a kid from Brooklyn who grew up rooting for the Mets when Gil was the manager, succeeding him so beautifully. And I don’t think he’d mind one bit the new ballpark going up in Queens, particularly the beautiful tribute to Jackie Robinson.
Gil Hodges was, as a biographer once put it, the quiet man. Not all the time, though. He made plenty of noise with his bat. The 370 home runs Gil hit were the tenth-most ever at the time he retired. Plus he drove in a hundred runs or more seven different times. Gil may have preferred it quiet, but the ’69 Mets certainly celebrated loudly enough to break some of their manager’s rules when they won the World Series and, if I recall correctly, he didn’t issue a single fine.
But it’s true that he was a quiet man. He kept a lot to himself. It was just his way. Yet I know if he were here today that Gil wouldn’t be nearly as quiet as we remember him, at least not up here on this stage. He’d smile that warm smile of his and say a great big thank you to everybody who helped enshrine him in Cooperstown.
On his behalf, allow me to do it. Thank you so very, very much.
Next Friday: Lucky bounce.