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Can’t Blame the Dads

Earlier this week, Ron Davis put his proverbial fist through the Mets’ paper-thin veil of pretending they’re happy to have Ike Davis come down to St. Lucie and compete for the first base job. Ron, who was a successful major league reliever before becoming known to a later generation as Ike’s dad, made his points cogently and colorfully, [1] whether you’re prone to agree with them or not.

Ron Davis thinks the Mets “screwed up” because they were so public about shopping Ike Davis and never got a deal done. Ron also expressed dismay with Citi Field’s impact on Ike’s production and stressed that his son should have no illusions about the nature of the business he’s chosen. The veteran of five major league teams resists sentimental attachments at the major league level. “My favorite team is the last one I played for,” he said, indicating Ike should be prepared to absorb the same lesson.

“I told him, ‘You’re like a piece of hamburger meat, just sitting there at the grocery store,’” Ron said before Tuesday night’s B.A.T. dinner. “‘And when you’re first put out there in that wrapper, you look real good — bright and red. And the older you get, you start getting tarnished, a little brownish, and people don’t pick you as much.’”

Davis the elder may be coming at the issue of Ike’s from perspectives both uniquely informed and totally biased, but good for him either way. Ron Davis doesn’t care about what’s best for the Mets. He cares about what’s best for his son. Whether his sharing his thoughts so candidly with the media helps Ike’s cause is another matter, but the man was surely speaking from the heart.

Can’t blame him for that, just like you couldn’t blame Mookie Wilson in October of 2006 for what some perceived as his crime against Metsdom, namely that he wore a Cardinal ski cap as he rooted for his son, Preston, in the World Series. The Mets’ archrivals during Mookie’s heyday were the Cardinals. The Mets’ archrivals the week before, during the NLCS, were the Cardinals. Mookie Wilson, a Met among Mets, didn’t care. Preston was playing for St. Louis, so Mookie pulled for St. Louis. Of course he did.

When Sandy Alomar, Sr., was a Met coach, he pulled down one of the commemorative Shea countdown numbers alongside his sons Roberto and Sandy, Jr., on Fathers Day. All three had been Mets, though one of them — Robbie — made a lasting impression in the wrong direction. As a non-Alomar in 2008, I wasn’t all that keen on Roberto Alomar being given any kind of Metsian honor. Yet somehow I don’t think Coach Sandy looked at the same person and saw a Met who seemed to tank upon his donning the orange, blue and black in 2002. He saw his son, period.

Hell, even über-Cub Randy Hundley was a Mets fan as long as Todd Hundley was a Met.

Blood (or adoption, in Mookie and Preston Wilson’s case) will always be thicker than the fabric the good folks at Stitches [2] use to produce game-ready Mets uniforms. Ron Davis’s spiel is OK. Mookie Wilson’s distasteful ski cap was OK. Sandy Alomar’s choice of number-removing companion was OK. And by the way, my dad, who always asks me about the Mets even though it’s hard to imagine him caring less about them, is OK, too. I mention that because Thursday was his 85th birthday.

Quite a number. Quite a guy.

As long as we’re on father-son terrain — and because my dad reminded me “we” (that is my family before I was born) lived a block away from the Hodgeses in Brooklyn — I want to acknowledge how genuinely gracious it was of Gil Hodges, Jr., to join us at the Queens Baseball Convention [3] for the presentation of the Gil Hodges Unforgettable Fire Award. Seeing as how this was the first QBC and there was no history behind this award, I appreciated that he took it on faith that our intentions were true. Not only did Gil show up to accept the award on behalf of his late father, he brought along his friend Art Shamsky, which overwhelmed the 7-year-old version of myself and was received pretty enthusiastically by the current iteration of yours truly.

Art Shamsky (speaking) and Gil Hodges, Jr., at QBC 14. (Photograph by Sharon Chapman.) [4]

Art Shamsky (speaking) and Gil Hodges, Jr., at QBC 14. (Photograph by Sharon Chapman.)

Even better, in my book, is that Gil checked with me the day before to make sure it was all right if Art came with him. What a menschy thing to do…y’know? I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which I refuse the presence of a 1969 Met at a Met event or, for that matter, any square footage I come across in my life. Despite my friend and QBC MC Jeff Hysen’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that I tell him, “sorry, we only want bloggers and nerds at this thing,” I confirmed we’d be quite honored to have Art on hand. And we were.

MetsPolice has posted audio of this particular presentation on its site [5], but since we had a little problem with our microphones in the middle of it, I thought I’d print here my brief “official” remarks concerning the award. It also serves to underscore the place Gil’s father holds in our collective heart.


Our beloved New York Mets were conceived by Bill Shea, delivered by George Weiss, nurtured by Joan Payson and brought into the world by Casey Stengel. Those were all crucial figures in the development of what Casey called our Metsies and their role in our history shouldn’t be overlooked.

It was Gil Hodges, however, who raised the Mets into an entity of substance; who made them make themselves into something; who guided them into growing up sooner than anybody on the outside would have imagined; and who gave us forever after a touchstone we could always proudly come home to.

What Gil Hodges did for the Mets and for us as Mets fans was and is and always will be enormous.

Gil Hodges didn’t invent the Mets, but he did make them real.

You may think I’m referring solely to winning the 1969 World Series with a team that had never won even half of its games before, and yes, that’s part of it. But Gil Hodges, as Mets manager, transcends even that rightfully legendary accomplishment.

When you read the contemporary accounts from when Gil ran the Mets and you listen, decades later, to the players Gil led, you understand it has to be about more than simply charging forward from 61 wins to 73 wins and then to 100 wins plus seven more in the postseason. You sense the transformation he effected, on a franchise level and within the lives of dozens of individuals he touched directly. When you hear about who Gil was and what he did and how he treated others, you can feel his impact radiate outward to not just a ballclub that played above what was supposed to be its head, but to everyone who cared about that club and who identified with that club.

That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of Mets fans, then and now. And that means everything to people like us.

There’s plenty more one could add about Gil Hodges, whether it’s his Hall of Fame-caliber playing career for Brooklyn, L.A. and the Original Mets; the home run records he set; the crucial role he played in winning the Dodgers their first world championship in 1955; the splendid job he did managing the Washington Senators; the valiant service he gave his country as a United States Marine in World War II; the impact he had on his community; and, of course, his family.

The only thing that seems to be missing when one endeavors to discuss Gil Hodges is a bad word, because nobody in or out of baseball seemed to have one to say about him.

It was a remarkable life Gil Hodges packed into not quite 48 years and it’s a remarkable legacy we celebrate today with our small token of appreciation for how he raised our team to be all it could be.

The Queens Baseball Convention is proud to inaugurate the Gil Hodges Unforgettable Fire Award, dedicated to the person whose memory eternally warms our hearts, brightens our spirits and lights our way. We plan to present this award annually to someone who casts a truly incandescent glow for us as Mets fans.

For the first one, we agreed there could be no better recipient than the man himself. Therefore, we are incredibly honored that joining us to accept this award is someone who carries on in the name of Gil Hodges and does that name proud.

Ladies and gentlemen, Gil Hodges, Jr.


Two recent podcast appearances you might enjoy: I join Desert Island Mets [6] to discern whether The Baseball Encyclopedia qualifies as a bible of sorts (fair warning: I programmed the episode’s music); and the Rising Apple Report [7] for a delightful digression into the Met coaching careers of Sheriff Robinson and Tom Nieto. Thanks to both shows for the thoughtful invitations and exchanges.