Last weekend, I had the privilege to cover the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
As I walked the hallowed halls of the museum as well as the town’s Main Street, I kept muttering the same phrase to myself over and over again:
“This just feels right.”
Perhaps it was the Baseball Gods sending me a message. Even they had been lobbying for years to welcome Gilbert Ray Hodges into the Hall of Fame.
Maybe it was the handiwork of my late grandfather and Brooklyn Dodgers fan Jimmy DeBernardo, who convinced those Baseball Gods that 2022 would be the long-awaited year for the Hodges family.
Or maybe it was the fact that the prayers of Gil’s 95-year-old widow Joan, who still lives in the home the couple shared on Bedford Avenue, were finally answered.
Whatever it was, it just felt right.
July 24 saw Hodges join David Ortiz, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Minnie Miñoso, Bud Fowler, and Buck O’Neil as the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. Plenty of Brooklyn Dodger fans made their way up to Cooperstown for this celebration of Hodges’ legacy.
For the former parishioner at Our Lady Help of Christians, Midwood, his greatest feat was as manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets. Just like saints of the Catholic Church are credited with performing miracles as part of their path toward canonization, turning the utterly hapless Mets of the early 1960s into World Series champions was nothing short of a miracle credited to Hodges.
I never saw Hodges play or manage, so who am I to say that he should have been elected to the Hall of Fame years ago? Yet based on what I’ve seen, read, and heard – and in comparing his pedigree to other players of his era – witnessing this monumental day in Brooklyn baseball history just felt right.
“It is such a privilege to stand here today as the Hall of Fame honors my father,” said Gil’s daughter Irene, who gave the induction speech. “He was a very humble man, but he would be so proud to be here with the best of the best in baseball. Nobody loved the game of baseball more than my dad. Through it all, he never lost sight of his faith and his love of people.
“Today I am especially happy for my mother. I was so beyond thrilled that my mom at 95 would be able to hear this news.”
We can spend lots of time looking back on why Hodges had to wait so long for enshrinement. That’s all in the past though. What’s important is that Hodges’ legacy will now be celebrated as a bona fide Hall of Famer, rather than being the poster child for the “Hall of Very Good” – a term we baseball fanatics use for a player whose career is just shy of Hall of Fame status.
I remember from my early years writing this sports column that the Gil Hodges Hall of Fame debate was seemingly a constant among lifelong Brooklyn Dodgers fans who saw him in the flesh. One year, we even signed a petition and sent it to the Veterans Committee making the case for Gil’s election.
Maybe it was the bias of Brooklynites, but everyone I spoke to passionately called for Hodges’ election to the Hall of Fame. Baseball fans are typically fair when it comes to who they think should be Hall of Famers – with a certain portion agreeing and another disagreeing. However, for Hodges the tone was always in the affirmative, leading me to ask the question: What’s the hold up here?
Luckily for all of us, we now say, “Hall of Famer Gil Hodges.” It doesn’t matter that it took way too many decades for this to happen. What matters is that it happened. There are no specific wings in Cooperstown for first-ballot Hall of Famers. Everyone is grouped together, and that’s exactly how it should be.
Driving home to Long Island after the ceremony felt like the conclusion of a yearslong journey – of which I am merely the most minor of footnotes – to right one of baseball’s greatest wrongs. Seriously, Gil’s character alone could have gotten him elected, regardless of his tremendous baseball acumen.
With Hodges’ bust firmly installed among the game’s all-time legends, the Hall of Fame is now a better place.
And that just feels right.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.