By Amy Patton
“He was a class act,” said Tom Clavin, a local author and journalist of the late baseball player Gil Hodges, the subject of Clavin’s latest non-fiction effort with co-writer Danny Peary; Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend.
A class act, perhaps, and no doubt a talented player and manager who died tragically of a heart attack in 1972, just two days shy of his 48th birthday.
“Gil was an incredibly modest and humble guy,” said Clavin.
Hodges was a player, according to most reports, who shied away from fame and publicity and focused on his performance and contributions to his team. But in the minds of baseball fans of the 1940s and 1950s era of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the memory of Hodges’ true accomplishments may be, well, a little muddled.
“One of the interesting things about Gil Hodges is that he is still so undervalued as a great player,” said Peary.
Hodges’ name, no doubt, is not as easily recognizable as players from the famous “Boys of Summer” era, such as Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and “Pee Wee” Reese who commandeered the diamond on Brooklyn’s fabled Ebbets Field.
Although Hodges shares much in common with those star players, it’s somewhat distressing to the authors that Hodges has not yet been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, an omission, they say, as equally tragic as the player’s own death at a relatively young age.
“It’s the baseball equivalent of a miscarriage of justice,” said Clavin.
Peary and Clavin are hoping their new book about Hodges’ life, particularly his little-known Bronze star-decorated service in World War II as a Marine gunner, will bring new light to what they describe as an exemplary sports career and life as a gentleman athlete.
It’s a life, they argue, that deserves induction and Hall of Fame recognition.
“It’s really the reason I wanted to write this book,” said Peary. “Today many people think of Gil Hodges as just a very good ballplayer. It’s a distortion of history that truly bothers me. He should get his due.”
Surprisingly, the man himself may not have put much stock into the accolade were he alive today, according to accounts in the book by his widow Joan Hodges.
“Joan told me when she asked Gil about it, he replied, ‘It’s just not that big a deal to me.’ And it probably wasn’t. He was just such an incredibly modest guy. But I think to his family (Gil is survived by his wife and four children: Gil, Jr., Cynthia, Irene, and Barbara) it would mean a lot.”
There are “certain milestones,” explained Clavin, that automatically transform a player into a Hall-of-Famer.
One, he said, is achieving a .300 lifetime batting average and the other a minimum of 500 career home runs.
“Gil didn’t have either one of those. But he played 16 seasons for the Dodgers and the Mets.”
Hodges, as a player and later as a manager of the New York Mets, was on three World Championship teams.
“He was really consistent in everything he did,” said Clavin.
Like many sports greats, Hodges had his roots in humble beginnings: His father Charlie worked for decades in the coal mines near Petersburg, Indiana. Passionate about sports, Hodges lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track during his high school tenure. His first season as a professional ballplayer came in 1947 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as the team’s catcher.
Hodges continued his career with the Dodgers after the franchise relocated to Los Angeles in April of 1958. In 1963, he moved into management with the Washington Senators and in 1969, coaxed the “Miracle Mets,” as they were dubbed in the press, into a world championship as manager, defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.
Clavin and Peary are not strangers to collaborating on literary sports projects. In 2012, the writing team released “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero,” which received a warm reception among critics and readers. Clavin also expects the debut of his upcoming book in October of next year, “The Heart of Everything That Is: The Life and Times of Red Cloud, the Most Powerful Warrior Chief of the West” with co-author Bob Drury.
The authors hold hopes that their new book will encourage reader interest that could spur an official nod to Hodges from Baseball’s Hall of Fame (HOF). That ambition nearly came to fruition last year when Hodges was considered for induction yet again by the HOF committee, which is composed of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In December of last year the committee voted on the matter “but he came up short,” said Clavin. Another vote regarding Hodges’ inclusion is slated to happen again in late 2013.
“Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend” will be one of many books showcased by local authors – both Clavin and Peary are longtime Sag Harbor residents – at the celebrated annual Author’s Night at The East Hampton Library, which will be held on Saturday, August 11.