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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Ron Hodges Backed Us Up

I have a few overriding memories of Ron Hodges’s Mets career that aren’t his signature moment in baseball.

1) Memorial Day 1976: The Mets have won the first game of a holiday doubleheader against Pittsburgh. They’re being shut out by Doc Medich in the second game. Ron Hodges hits a home run in the ninth. They still lose, but I remember the home run. Until I looked it up after learning of Ron’s passing at the age of 74 on Friday, I kind of remembered the home run being more dramatic. Maybe it won the game. Maybe it was his second of the game or at least the day. No, just a solo home run that brought the Mets within one. Hodges had been in Tidewater most of 1975, once the glitter of what he’d done as a rookie in 1973 had worn off and the Mets had become more interested in grooming John Stearns as the eventual successor to Jerry Grote. Clearly, Hodges was now back to stay. Maybe that’s what felt dramatic about it.

2) August 1980: The Mets aren’t doing well. They were for several months, but they’ve been beset by frontline injuries, including one that’s taken out their only All-Star, Stearns. Alex Treviño — good defense, light bat, zero power — is starting most games. Butch Benton, first-round draft pick in 1975, is backing up Treviño with a batting average so low (.048) that the caliber of his catching doesn’t immediately spring to mind in 2023. They miss Stearns. Maybe they miss somebody else in their catching corps. Briefly commiserating with a fellow Mets fan in 1980, I’m asked, “Why isn’t Ron Hodges playing?” He’s out with an injury, I said. Mystery solved for that guy, but it occurred to me that Hodges could be absent for more than a month — he hadn’t played since the Fourth of July — and somebody not paying rapt Met attention might not notice.

3) June 21, 1984: Rusty Staub delivers the difference-maker in a critical 10-7 home win over the Phillies on the first day of summer, as critical as a win can be on the first day of summer, considering the season wouldn’t be over until early fall. It felt as big as any June game I could remember. I was following along from a distance — a lot of calls to Sportsphone while grinding out my summer semester at USF — but I was all over this game. The Mets entered a half-game behind the Phillies for first place. The Cubs were circling the top of the standings as well, but knocking out the Phillies, who’d owned the division more years than not since 1976, was paramount to me. Staub’s pinch-hit single in the seventh to put the Mets ahead to stay signified something more than a pleasant June afternoon result unfolding. It was Rusty! The last time we were in first place this deep into a season was 1973! Who was one of our heroes then? Rusty! Of course Rusty was sent away after 1975 and wouldn’t return until 1981. If you wanted a sturdier throughline from You Gotta Believe to believing anew, you needed look no further than the contributions of Ron Hodges, a player who, save for a Triple-A stint in 1975 or Disabled List stay in 1980, had been at Shea since the last time Shea was inarguably the place to be. Versus Philadelphia this day in 1984, he reaches on a two-out error in the fifth, which allows two runs to score; drives in a run on a groundout in the seventh; walks with the bases loaded in the eighth for one more insurance tally. None of it is heroic, exactly. All of it helpful to a newly minted first-place ballclub, all of it a testament to what can happen if somebody hangs around long enough.

Ron Hodges hung around plenty. He showed up with little notice in ’73 and was a Met every single season thereafter through ’84, a dozen seasons in all. As a Met and only a Met, only Ed Kranepool and David Wright outlasted him. That he made himself technically irreplaceable for twelve years without ever excelling on the level of Wright or building a legend à la Kranepool makes his endurance all the more remarkable.

Scouting report? He was good at being Ron Hodges. Every franchise is better off when it has somebody who fits that description.

Ron settling in at Shea.

A lefty-swinging minor leaguer who wasn’t necessarily filling any Mets fan’s radar in the hotly anticipated prospect sense, Hodges was called up from Double-A Memphis in June for the primary reason catchers are called up before September. Because some other catcher is hurt. That might be an oversimplification, but without running the research, I’d swear it’s mostly true. Butch Benton was called up because Stearns was hurt. Francisco Alvarez was called up because Omar Narváez was hurt. Ron Hodges was called up because Jerry May was hurt. Jerry May, a veteran, was here because Jerry Grote was hurt. For years, the catching pecking order had been Grote and Duffy Dyer, unless Grote was hurt. Then it was Dyer and hope for the best. Depth demanded something more in June of 1973 once the Jerrys were left hanging on the DL vine.

Thus, it was deemed time in Flushing, N.Y., for Ron Hodges from Rocky Mount, Va., who in the Daily News accounting of his promotion was identified as “no relation to late Met manager” Gil, a point hammered home in Ron’s yearbook writeups for years to come. His annual capsule bios also never failed to note Ron “had impressed Yogi Berra during 1972 inspection tour of Florida Instructional League,” where no-relation Hodges earned all-star honors. “He’s an outstanding receiver and the best catching prospect in the organization,” Billy Connors, the Mets’ minor league pitching coach informed the News. His batting average at Memphis was .173, so it was probably all about behind the plate for Ron.

Nonetheless, the freshman just shy of his 24th birthday when he came up, was a .300 hitter after his first fifteen starts, mixing in a homer and eight RBIs before National League pitchers tamed his bat. Nonetheless, Ron’s hot streak and dependable backstopping provided enough runway for Yogi — who knew something about catching — to carry Hodges along with Grote and Dyer once the incumbent came back and the Mets made their late-season move to advance from last place to first.

With a healed Grote ensconced, Hodges’s starts became rare (and Dyer’s nonexistent), but when opportunity knocked, boy did Ron answer. At Shea Stadium on the night of September 20, with the Pirates barely clinging to both first place and a one-run lead, Berra’s catching depth went into effect. Yogi used Ken Boswell to lead off the bottom of the ninth as a pinch-hitter for Grote, who had guided Jerry Koosman through eight innings of four-hit ball. Boswell responded with a single. Don Hahn sacrificed him to second. One out later, Duffy pinch-hit for reliever Harry Parker and doubled home Ken. Tie game. Hoping to build the winning run, Yogi sent Greg Harts in to pinch-run for Dyer. When that run did not materialize, it was Hodges’s turn to play. He caught the tenth, eleventh and twelfth, three perfect innings from Ray Sadecki.

In the top of the thirteenth, with one out, Richie Zisk singled. With two out, Dave Augustine…well, let’s get Bob Murphy on the mic to tell us what happened next.

“The two-one pitch…
“Hit in the air to left field, it’s deep…
“Back goes Jones, BY THE FENCE…
“It hits the TOP of the fence, comes back in play…
“Jones grabs it!
“The relay throw to the plate, they may get him…
“He’s out at the plate!

“Jones” is Cleon Jones, the left fielder, who is in the midst of a splendid career and a spectacular September. “The relay throw” is Wayne Garrett, Met third baseman more nights than not between 1969 and 1976, whether by choice or default; he’s playing shortstop at the moment after Buddy Harrelson was pinch-hit for in the whirlwind ninth. Garrett, too, is tearing it up this September. “To the plate” means Ron Hodges. Once Yogi has Grote, Grote is his September security blanket. Ron hasn’t started since the nightcap of the Labor Day twinbill that doubled as Craig Swan’s major league debut. He’s caught four-and-a-third mopup innings in the past two-and-a-half weeks before tonight.

Yet he finishes off an incredible play. Zisk is not fast as a baserunner, but he is a formidable physical force if he’s sliding into you, especially with the season on the line. Ron Hodges absorbed all 200 pounds of Zisk, tagged him, showed umpire John McSherry the ball, stood up, dusted himself off, came to bat in the bottom of the inning, and drove home John Milner from second with the winning run in a 4-3 victory. The Mets were a half-game from first place. The next night, they’d be in it, never to vacate it.

“There’s no comparison to anything I’ve ever done,” Hodges said after the game — and that was two nights after he’d delivered a game-tying pinch-single in the ninth in Pittsburgh. Rookie Ron Hodges was a pennant race veteran. He was the indispensable “2” on the 7-6-2 of a lifetime, and he drove in the only walkoff run of the Mets’ miraculous September. His signature moment in baseball is as indelible as just about any other Met’s.

That was Game No. 153 of the Mets’ 1973 season. Hodges wouldn’t play again. It was all Grote all the time all the way to the division-clincher on October 1 in Chicago. A World Series Game One ninth-inning pinch-walk for Harrelson, with Teddy Martinez immediately replacing him on the basepaths, represented his postseason participation, not only for ’73, but forever. We may have been told we had to believe more in ’74, yet Septembers were done sizzling at Shea for the rest of the Seventies. Save for a split-season mirage in 1981, the Mets would not legitimately contend into the final weeks of a campaign until the twilight of Ron Hodges’s career, and even then, in 1984, the Mets would have needed a couple of miracles on the order of 1973 to catch the Cubs, who passed them for first place for good in August.

By then, the staff Hodges caught as a rookie, helmed by Seaver, Koosman and Matlack, had gone through multiple changes. In 1984, it was full of young, electrifying arms who were eliciting comparisons to the rotation Ron had come up on. Gooden. Darling. Fernandez. In between, there had been Swan maturing and lasting almost as long as Hodges, and Zachry, and Espinosa, and Falcone, and Bomback, and any number of starting pitchers and relievers. Hodges was around for all of them. Stearns succeeded Grote as the starting catcher in 1977; injuries curtailed his incumbency. Treviño showed enough promise that he got a decent number of reps before going to Cincinnati in the George Foster trade. Benton didn’t work out in the scheme of catching depth. Neither did journeyman Bruce Bochy, among others. In 1984, a former first-round pick named John Gibbons (your 2024 New York Mets bench coach) was the designated catcher of the future until injured. Another rookie, Mike Fitzgerald, took over, with Keith Hernandez frequently visiting the mound from first base to furnish any insight a neophyte catcher might not have handy for the fresh-faced pitchers.

Hodges persevered. Still there in 1984, same as in 1973, same as in all the seasons in between. Played in more than half his team’s games only once. Batted over .260 only once. Homered as many as five times only once. The statistics seemed beside the point after a while. We had a catcher who batted from the left side, a catcher who’d been through the last true pennant race the Mets had contested, certainly the last one they’d won. We had a catcher and Hodges had a role. “When I went back to Tidewater in 1975,” Ron reflected for his SABR biography in 2018, “I made a decision to be a backup in the majors rather than a starter in the minors.” Given his longevity, it appears Hodges knew what he was doing.

Ron getting up to leave.

Ron Hodges’s final start in the majors came on September 25, 1984, after the Mets were eliminated from postseason contention. Most of his Septembers since his first one could have been described that way, but these were the 1984 Mets, and they were en route to better days. Hodges left his soon-to-be erstwhile employers something to remember him by, a single that tied another game with the Phillies, 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth. Ron came out for a pinch-runner, Jose Oquendo, and could watch from the bench as his then-and-now teammate Staub blasted the two-run homer that won the game for the Mets. It was a big deal in that Rusty became the first player since Ty Cobb to go deep before turning 20 and after turning 40. Rusty had one more year ahead of him as a Met. Ron would get one more at-bat, pinch-hitting in Montreal on the last day of the season. John Stearns was making what proved the last start of his career. GM Frank Cashen’s eyes that day were no doubt on the Expos’ catcher, Gary Carter. Carter would be a Met in a little over two months, acquired in December for four Mets who included Fitzgerald. By then, connections with their previous longtime catchers were severed. Stearns was a free agent who didn’t play after 1984. Hodges, too. “We wish Ron all the best,” Cashen said when the Mets confirmed they weren’t picking up the veteran’s option for 1985. “He has always been a gentleman and a credit to the ballclub.”

We mostly remember Ron Hodges for one play at the plate in top of an inning and the at-bat that followed in the bottom of that frame, and given the momentousness of the context that surrounded those events, that’s an appropriate reflex. But let’s remember the years after as well. It was easy to take for granted a backup catcher who, by job description, didn’t play very much. Yet the list of backup catchers who did it for as long as Ron did it for the Mets is limited to one.

The following is something I wrote a few years ago for a song parody contest on the Crane Pool Forum. All you need to know, besides that it’s sung to the tune of Meat Loaf’s immortal “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” is a) the contest demanded a reference to a 1970s television show be woven within the lyrics; b) the Phil Rizzuto portion should be interpreted as being announced by — who else? — Bob Murphy; and c) the story is being told from the perspective of a rookie catcher first called up in 1973.

With that, I share with you here my 2020 salute to Ron Hodges, “Paradise by the Scoreboard Light”.


Well I remember every little thing
As if it happened just a year ago
Summoned up to Shea when there was only one catcher on-site
And I never dreamed my shot
Would come along quite so quickly
And all the Blues in Memphis
They were wishing they were me that night

The Eastern Division grew close and tight
Nobody was that good
No team was going right

We were sitting in the basement with a ghost of a chance
Sitting in the basement with a ghost of a chance
C’mon, hold on tight
Oh c’mon, for dear life

Though it’s kinda hopeless stuck down in sixth place
I could see a smile light up on Tug McGraw’s face

Ain’t no doubt about it
We were hardly dead
We were less than seven out
With a month ahead

Ain’t no need to resign, man
Someone alert that ol’ Sign Man
Ain’t no doubt about it
You gotta believe
It ain’t over ’til it’s over
When ya got Matlack, Koosman & Seav’

Pirates, don’t ya hear our steps?
We’re now recovered from our injuries
I’m mostly sitting on the bench
But watching’s fun, just the same

Bucs, we’re gonna let ya know
Oh, you’re gonna come to regret us

I opened up my eyes
I got a big surprise
Yogi made some moves
And suddenly I’m in the game

Grote and Dyer, they were done for the night
“Ronnie,” Yogi said, “you’re gonna do all right”
And we headed into extras with a ghost of a chance
Headed into extras with a ghost of a chance
C’mon, hold on tight
Oh c’mon, for dear life

Though I was sorta nervous on that Thursday night
I could see paradise by the scoreboard light
Though being third-string could certainly bite
(Could certainly bite)
Paradise by the scoreboard light

Could only do what I could
And let my pitch-framing skills do the rest
Ain’t no doubt about it
We were doubly blessed
’Cause we were barely one game out and we were barely…

It’s beginning to feel like Sixty-Nine
And Sixty-Nine was mighty fine
It’s beginning to feel like Sixty-Nine
And Sixty-Nine was mighty fine
It’s beginning to feel like Sixty-Nine
And Sixty-Nine was mighty fine
It’s beginning to feel like Sixty-Nine
And Sixty-Nine was mighty fine


Dave Augustine, the Pirates’ promising outfield prospect, in the box
Zisk takes a slight lead off first as Sadecki looks in for the sign
Young Ron Hodges behind the plate late in his rookie season
In June he was at Double-A, now he’s in the heat of a pennant race

Augustine fouls one off, over into the box seats behind first base
The ball is caught by a fan who looks very familiar to me
Why, yes, that’s Archie Bunker from Astoria, right here in Queens
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bunker before tonight’s game

Archie and his son-in-law Mike are guests of our sponsor Rheingold
Natural Rheingold worked with local taverns to provide two tickets
To patrons of one of the local taverns that supports Mets baseball
And Archie’s name was drawn from an entry sent in by Kelsey’s Bar

You know, I’ve got to tell you, that Mr. Bunker is a real character
He had some very provocative things to say to me when we met
He’s also quite a bowler and asked if he could be on my new show
“Bowling for Dollars,” airing weeknights on WOR-TV, Channel 9

I told Mr. Bunker I’m not the one who makes those decisions
But I will say he seems ready-made for television
Augustine, who had called time, steps back into the box
He had gone over to the on-deck circle for some pine tar

Now everybody in the crowd, including Archie Bunker
Perches forward in his chair for the next pitch
This has been a tense affair from the word ‘go’ tonight
We’re in the top of the thirteenth inning, tied at three with two out

Again, Zisk at first, Augustine at bat with a count of two-and-one
The veteran lefty Ray Sadecki on the mound
The youngster Ron Hodges puts down his fingers for the sign
Fasten your seat belts…


Stop right there!
We’re gonna know right now

Dave Augustine clocks it
Off Sadecki
He hits it a ton
It’s surely going
Will we ever recover?
Will a two-run homer keep us from first place?
Dave Augustine’s fly ball seems destined for space

Is it going?
Is there a way it’s not going?
Can we get it
Before it goes?

Will Augustine’s fly ball somehow not clear the fence?
Might there still be an outcome that eludes common sense?

We’re gonna know right now
If we can go any further
And still win this
And then maybe the pennant

Well, keep an eye on it
Maybe, maybe keep an eye on it
Keep an eye on it
We could pick up ground by Friday morning

Well, keep an eye on it
Maybe, maybe Cleon’s tryin’ it
Jones is at the track
The track they put out there for his warning

Well, keep an eye on it
Maybe, maybe it’s dyin’, it’s —
The ball is not out!
It could be a new day that is dawning

We’re gonna know right now
That it’s in play
Off the top of the wall
Yes it’s in play
No it didn’t leave Shea
It took a crazy high bounce into Cleon Jones’ glove
Seems our chances at first place have been given a shove

We’re gonna know right now
If we can go any further
We might love this
We might love this forever

What’s it gonna be, Zisk?
Come on, you can hardly run

What’s it gonna be, Zisk?
Score or not?

What’s it gonna BE, Zisk?
Safe… or… OUT?

Keep an eye on Zisk
Richie isn’t fast enough for this
Well, keep an eye on Zisk
Maybe we’ll nab him with a relay

We’re gonna know right now
Will we love this?
Will we love this forever?
Where’s the relay?
Will Cleon reach Garrett?
If Garrett grabs the relay
Will he get it to me?
Can I block the plate fully
And withstand Richie Zisk?

We’re gonna know right now
If we go any further
If we’ll love this
If we’ll love this forever

Keep an eye on Zisk
Will we love this forever?
Keep an eye on Zisk
Will we love this forever?

I caught the ball from Wayne Garrett
For a play at the plate
Then I tagged Richie Zisk, whose speed did not rate
I heard the ump John McSherry call him “OUT!” and not safe
And we would love this to the end of time
I swore, we’d love this to the end of time

Then I delivered the game-winning hit
John Milner scored on my drive
We ended the night just a half a game out
In the playoffs we were soon to arrive

I’d play eleven more years
And they weren’t the worst
But nothing could match
The thrill of coming in first

Backup ’til the end of time
It’s just what I would do (woo-wooo!)
Yet you’ll see in the rotunda
My number
The number I wore
Was Forty-Two

It was long ago and it was far away
And that ball, somehow, well, it never left Shea

It was long ago and it was far away
Augustine, you can see, is a footnote today

It was long ago and it was far away
No, I’m not related to Gilbert Ray

7 comments to Ron Hodges Backed Us Up

  • Lenny65

    When I was a kid, it seemed like Ron Hodges had been the Mets backup catcher forever and, in a way, he had. I remember the amusingly named Duffy Dyer, of course, but barely. Ron was there, year after year, which says plenty. Twelve seasons, from a World Series to Grant’s Tomb and then some. I do remember thinking it was nice that he got to play in 1984, the year when the Mets became a real team again. He sure earned it. Twelve seasons as a backup catcher…that’s something you don’t see a lot anymore.

  • eric1973

    These guys from 1973 are my favorites, and it bothered me deeply when I heard the news. Hodges was just interviewed a couple of months ago during a game on SNY, so wondering what happened.

    The Ball on the Wall play will live forever, of course, and when he came up, Lindsey, Bob, and Ralph always referred to him as ‘Young Ron Hodges.’

    Aside from 1973, he was charged with the game-ending error in the famous 25 inning game in 1974 at Shea against the Cards. I could never get it straight on what exactly happened, but the articles mentioned Bake McBride running through a stop sign. I can still see Milner chasing the errant Hank Webb pickoff down the right field line.

    Good Bye, old friend…

  • eric1973

    Great song parody…..
    If you have any more, please bring ’em on!

  • Ed Rising

    Greg, Thanks for this wonderful remembrance of Hodges career. I enjoyed the snapshots you offered here. I also enjoyed the tune. You ought to get together with Weird Al! RIP Ron Hodges – you will always be remembered by us fans. Thank you.

  • open the gates

    When I think of Met backup catchers, the first that comes to mind is Todd Pratt, because duh. The second is Ramon Castro, because he got a home run in the first game I ever took my kids to. And the third is Ron Hodges. Because he was the backup catcher for the first team I ever followed. He defined the term. He was always there if rarely seen. He was the only direct link from Tom Seaver to Doc Gooden. His moment of glory was before my time as a fan, but it was part of his resume, and now his legacy. RIP, Young Ron Hodges.