Hall Again Says No To Gil
As a boy growing up in the late ’40s and ’50s, my interests focused on cowboy heroes like Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, and Gene Autry. However, from April to October each year there was no question where my attention was directed. My life was baseball and I worshipped the Brooklyn Dodgers. What kind of days I had were dependent upon whether Duke hit a homerun; Clem won in relief; the number of bases Jackie stole; and whether Carl threw a baserunner out at home plate. My favorite pitch hitter was one of baseball’s premier pitchers, Don Newcombe. We all knew if Pee Wee needed a break that Zim (Don Zimmer) was there to back him up. The Dodgers were not a team. They had become a cultural phenomenon. They were an integral part of the community where they played.
Each time I went to Ebbets Field I treated it as if I were walking on hallowed ground. The spirit in that stadium generated excitement, hope and happiness. Unless you lived through that time period and were a Dodger fan, you could never understand the significance of 1955. You could also never understand the symbolism and essence of the team and its players.
This past week, major league baseball and its Hall of Fame had a unique opportunity to make amends for an unjustified and grave injustice, while redeeming baseball’s declining professional and character image in recent years. Instead baseball was able again to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory; they failed to accept Gil Hodges into the Hall of Fame.
At a time when it is regularly revealed that ballplayers are involved in a panoply of vices, baseball had the chance to reclaim some of its former grandeur as the national pastime and symbol of the ideal American values. No baseball player in the history of the game more clearly represented sportsmanlike conduct, perseverance, integrity, and tenacity. He was, in every way imaginable, a role model for American youth. He was a gentle giant and more importantly, a gentleman.
On the field he was the finest defensive first baseman of his era and one of the best hitting players in that position. His numbers speak for themselves. His accomplishments are legendary. He was an integral part of the greatest team in baseball history and was its hitting star in the final game of the 1955 World Series, the greatest series in baseball history. He would later go on to manage the first New York Mets World Series championship team. His sudden death at a relatively young age created a void in baseball that has never been filled.
In recent decades, we have baseball players that have been involved in sex scandals, gambling scandals, and the wrongful use of all kinds of substances. No one in the history of baseball symbolized more the antithesis of such behavior than Gil Hodges.
He was a resident of the community where he played baseball. He was in every way a friend and neighbor to those who went to Ebbets Field to see the national pastime played the way it was supposed to be played.
What major league baseball and the Hall of Fame have done in rejecting the admission of Gil Hodges is to send a message that impeccable character, moral values and fine playing are not relevant when it comes to Gil Hodges. The Hall of Fame had an opportunity to take a moment in time and demonstrate to the youth today that the Hall of Fame, Gil Hodges and superior character are one and the same.
They have unfortunately chosen not to do that.
That decision warrants a change of name for the Hall of Fame. It should now be called the Hall of “Shame.”
I am a grandparent now. I take two of my grandchildren regularly to MCU Park to watch the Cyclones. Over the years I have found that the Cyclones and MCU Park (formerly Key Span) have an ambiance reminiscent of Ebbets Field.
On the way there on the Belt Parkway, I always point out the bridge named after Gil Hodges and I explain the kind of individual he was and why the bridge is a monument to his memory. At MCU Park, there is a gallery focused on Brooklyn’s major league experience, including its players. As my grandchildren get older, I will explain why that gallery far more reflects the golden age and character of baseball than the Hall of “Shame” in Cooperstown.