Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The thrill of seeing Gil Hodges still lingers for a lifelong Brooklyn Dodger fan

In December of 2011, I wrote a piece entitled, "Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make last minute pitch for Hall of Fame," citing recent interviews with Hodges' teammates coming out in support of their late first baseman for the Hall of Fame. That weekend, the newly formed Golden Era Committee voted Ron Santo into the Baseball Hall of Fame, once again leaving Hodges, his family, and his supporters on the outside looking in.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from 72-year-old Brooklyn Dodgers fan Bill Hidde, who shared passionate memories of watching Hodges play in Brooklyn, explaining why he is deserving of the Hall of Fame.

"I grew up in upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown and was an avid Brooklyn Dodger fan who idolized Gil Hodges. When he retired, he held the record for most home runs by a right-hander in the National League and he had a cover picture and several page layout in Look Magazine entitled, "Ballet at First Base," with sequenced shots capturing his grace and athleticism fielding his position.

I had an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn and for two or three years we made the trip there in the summer. My aunt would get tickets for Ebbets Field. The thrill for a young man to go to our seats and see that lighted diamond, and realize I was watching my heroes instead of hearing the announcer on the radio at home still lingers.

The ballplayers of that era recognized their impact on youngsters and one of the finest tributes to Gil Hodges is one that was never given. I knew everything a young boy could know about Gil, where he was born, his wife's maiden name, his service in the Marines, and minor league time before making the majors.

Several years ago, I just happened to catch an interview with teammate and star Duke Snider. The interviewer mentioned Gil dying so young. Duke replied that Gil was very high strung and got extremely nervous before big games and said he was also a chain smoker. I either had, or tried to see, every photo of Gil Hodges I could find. There was not one that ever showed him smoking and I am sure it was because he knew the bad influence that could have on his young fans.

Everyone who knew him spoke of him with respect and admiration. His early death took him from the spotlight and many never got to know the man and his accomplishments, but it will be a real injustice if he is not placed in the Hall of Fame, a place he earned and deserves to be enshrined in!"

Bill Hidde

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