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Baseball Always a Passion for Joan Hodges

Gill Hodges

This 1952 baseball picture card depicts Gil Hodges, one of Brooklyn’s all-time sports heroes.

By Jim Mancari

“Behind every great man, there stands a great woman.”

Such is the case for the iconic Gil Hodges. On Dec. 26, 1948, Hodges married East Flatbush’s own Joan Lombardi.

The soon-to-be 85-year-old Joan Hodges was born a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, so meeting Gil just seemed right. The couple had four children – a boy and three girls – all of whom attended the family’s parish school at Our Lady Help of Christians, Midwood. Gil, Jr. went on to the old Brooklyn Prep, Crown Heights, while the three girls – Irene, Cynthia and Barbara – attended St. Edmund’s H.S., Sheepshead Bay.

“He [Gil] respected his religion immensely and made sure we lived up to it in every way possible,” Mrs. Hodges said.

Gil and Joan spent their honeymoon in Vero Beach, Fla., the home of the Dodgers’ spring training facility. While there, the team’s general manager Branch Rickey explained to Joan why the players slept in army barracks with their beds nailed to the wall.

“In spring training, ballplayers are treated like soldiers,” Rickey told Mrs. Hodges. “It’s training.”

This mentality forced the players to think of each other as brothers, while the players’ wives acted as sisters. Joan befriended many of Gil’s teammates’ wives, including Rachel Robinson, Dottie Reese, Ruth Campanella and Betty Erskine.

Ebbets Field, Flatbush, was a home away from home for Joan. She used to make her own scorecards on paper to follow along with the game, especially Gil’s at-bats.

Gil set a Major League record on Aug. 31, 1950 by being the first and still only player to hit four home runs in a single game, with each one coming off a different pitcher. After he had hit three home runs, Joan, who happened to be seated next to Don Newcombe’s father, covered her eyes and placed her head in her lap as Gil came to the plate.

“I couldn’t look,” said Mrs. Hodges. “But all of a sudden I heard, ‘Joanie! Joanie! Take your hands off your eyes! Look where it is. Centerfield!’”

Though Gil experienced a world of success in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he battled through a terrible slump starting in the 1952 World Series. Luckily, he had the support of the Catholic Church.

“It’s far too hot for a homily,” said Father Herbert Redmond of St. Francis Xavier Church, Park Slope, on a sweltering summer day in 1953. “Keep the Commandments and say a prayer for Gil Hodges.”

“I never ever heard my husband booed in any ballpark,” said Mrs. Hodges. “People absolutely worshipped him.”

When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, Joan had a rough time adjusting at first and, in fact, lived out of her suitcase for the entire first month.

“I was a Dodger fan ever since I knew what a baseball was,” Mrs. Hodges said. “I was still with the Dodgers, but being away from Brooklyn was a very big blow.”

Luckily, Gil was selected by the expansion New York Mets in 1962, which allowed the family to return home. But soon after, Gil retired from playing and accepted the managerial job of the Washington Senators.

“Just think, we won’t have to face Willie Mays anymore,” Mrs. Hodges joyfully recalled. “But we now have Mickey Mantle.”

Managing consumed as much of Gil’s time as playing. One day, Joan accused Gil of not listening to a word she said while trying to fill him in on the kids’ lives.

“I’m going to get uniforms for all the children, and I’m going to take the rugs out of this whole house and put Astroturf down,” Mrs. Hodges said laughing. “Maybe then I can have your undivided attention.”

But Gil treated all the players he managed like his own children. It was this sense of discipline that allowed him to act as a miracle worker in turning the Mets from ‘Lovable Losers’ to 1969 World Champions.

“It was like he adopted first graders and made them college graduates,” said Mrs. Hodges.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Hodges family during spring training 1972. Gil died suddenly from a heart attack after golfing with the Mets coaches. He was two days shy of his 48th birthday.

At the funeral, famous sports journalist Howard Cosell asked Jackie Robinson how Gil’s death affected him.

“Almost as bad as when I lost my son,” said Robinson, who lost his 24-year-old son Jackie, Jr. in a car accident in 1971.

“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” Mrs. Hodges said. “That’s how much respect they had for each other. Gil’s first word in life was respect.”

Gil’s respect and love for the game led to his No. 14 being retired by the Mets and the Brooklyn Cyclones.  The 18-year veteran was an eight-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and even has the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge in Marine Park named in his honor.

But according to Joan, Gil’s crowning achievement is the fact the he helped bring the Dodgers their first-ever World Series title in 1955, and then later he was the first to bring a National League World Series championship back to the people by winning the Mets first-ever title in 1969.

Though he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1982, he has yet to be selected as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Though Joan is perplexed as to why she has not received the call, she tries not to discuss the matter, since she feels Gil would not want her to.

“His stats speak for themselves,” said Mrs. Hodges. “I just cannot give a reason why he hasn’t been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  I don’t live a day without hearing it.”

Let’s all keep praying that Joan gets the call soon from Cooperstown, because she and the scores of New Yorkers who saw Gil play and manage certainly deserve the honor.

“He’s in my Hall of Fame forever,” said Mrs. Hodges. “And my children’s and all the people that had the privilege of knowing him.”

Mets Commemorate 9/11 At Pre-game Ceremony

Mike Piazza and John Franco, two former Mets both of whom are Catholic, were on hand for a pre-game ceremony at Citi Field, Flushing, on Sept. 11 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Piazza hit the go-ahead home run during the first game back on Sept. 21 – a home run that has been called the “Healing Power of a Swing.” Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Steve Trachsel and Rusty Staub were also part of the pre-game memorial service.

Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter @JMMancari

6 Responses to “Baseball Always a Passion for Joan Hodges”

  1. Lu Patterson-Sisco says:

    It is beyond my understanding why Gil Hodges is not in the Hall of Fame. He was part of the great Brooklyn Dodgers infield that won the World Series in 1955. His stats with the team do speak for themselves as does taking a laughingstock team all the way to a World Series win. His players respected him, he was true to God, his family, baseball and it’s fans and true to himself. Gil didn’t act one way in public and another in private as so many of our sports figures do today. He fits all the requirements to be in the Hall of Fame: Character integrity and sportsmanship; record, ability, and contributions to his teams and baseball in general. There is no reason to keep Gil out when there are players with equal stats and players lacking the integrity and character of Gil.

    • Lu Patterson-Sisco says:

      The laughingstock team I am referring to are the NY Mets of 1969. Everyone of the 1969 NY Mets team credits Gil with making them better baseball players and better men in the process.

  2. JOE D'AGOSTIN says:

    nice article–I AM 70 AND FROM BROOKLYN BUT NOW IN NORWALK,CT. MET JOAN SEVERAL TIMES AS I HAVE WEBSITE ON GIL RE GETTING INTO HALL–THE QUEST CONTINUES AND MY FOLLOWERS CONTINUE TO PRAY FOR GIL HODGES

  3. charlie murphy says:

    hopefully, our prayers will work this year.

  4. Joe DellaLonga says:

    While living in Brooklyn, I had the good fortune of seeing Gil even in the off-season at his bowling alley – always the gentle giant. I believe the Little League field on McDonald Ave has also been named after him.
    People do not realize that the former Marine came up to the Dodgers as a catcher and ended up as a Gold Glove first baseman. Some said w/those big hands, he didn’t need a mitt!
    I vividly remember being in the basement of my aunt’s home in Flatbush watching TV and sadly learning of Gil’s passing that Easter Sunday.

  5. Everything about Gil reeked of “class”. I would purposely attend 10 o’clock mass, each Sunday to see Joan and Gil, at St,Gtegory The Great Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn where I attended elementary school from 1946 through 1954. He was the epitome of “class”, on and off the field and is definitely in “GODS HALL OF FAME”!!!

    PS – My feeling about his not being elected to date is the bias against New York, especially Brooklyn, by the voting body? Too many Brooklyn Dodgers in the Hall?

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