A neglected baseball great receives his due in this comprehensive biography.
In their second collaboration, veteran authors Clavin and Peary (Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero, 2010, etc.) highlight another player egregiously overlooked by baseball’s Hall of Fame. At the conclusion of his playing career, Gil Hodges (1924–1972) had put up numbers that ranked among the all-time best. The authors dutifully chart his on-field heroics, reminding us of his slugging prowess (career home-run record for National League right-handed batters), his Gold Glove fielding and his knack for the big moment. More than anything, though, they feature Hodges the man, a fellow whose decency and character made an impression on everyone around him. From his sports-obsessed Indiana boyhood, to his short college tenure, his World War II service with the Marines, his crucial role as a leader of the storied 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, his managerial stint with the Washington Senators and, most famously, with the Miracle Mets of 1969, Hodges was the sort of man after whom friends named their sons. For his quiet manner, stoicism and professionalism, he regularly drew comparisons to the sainted Lou Gehrig. A modest, devoted family man, Hodges was beloved in Brooklyn. When he slumped horribly in the 1952 World Series, church congregations prayed for him; when he brought a championship to the historically hapless Mets, all of New York toasted him. Perhaps he kept too much inside. As an adult, he was a chronic worrier, and he never discussed his combat experiences. Only a longtime smoking habit hinted at the stress he must have felt before his second heart attack in 1972, which killed him. The authors’ brief on behalf of Hodges’ Cooperstown credentials won’t persuade everyone, but baseball fans will appreciate this look at an often-overshadowed star.
A loving appreciation of a rare commodity: an extraordinary athlete who was an even better man.