For the past two weeks, tributes have poured in for the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8 at the age of 96.
We are now mourning the loss of another queen. “Queen” may not have been a part of her official title, yet she was surely the “Queen of Brooklyn Baseball.”
Joan Hodges, widow of now Baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, passed away Sept. 17 after a long illness. She was 10 days shy of her next birth- day, and — just like Queen Elizabeth — she would have been 96.
“We are thankful that Joan was able to see Gil inducted into the Hall of Fame in July,” said New York Mets Team President Sandy Alderson in a statement. “That meant so much to her and the entire Mets and Hodges family.
“She was a true baseball fan and still followed her two favorite teams, the Mets and Dodgers. We send our condolences to her daughters, Irene and Cindi; her son, Gil Jr.; and the rest of the Hodges family.”
In life, timing is everything. For decades since Gil Hodges’ passing in 1972, fans rallied behind his Hall-of-Fame cause so that his widow Joan could still be around to accept the honor on her husband’s behalf.
Given her illness the past few years coupled with Gil missing each year on the Veterans Committee ballot, hope seemed bleak.
Yet this past December, Joan finally received the long overdue call that her husband would be taking his rightful place in Cooperstown, New York.
“I was very thrilled,” Joan told me the morning after the vote. “He’s very deserving.”
Those few words embodied the patient wait Joan was forced to endure.
More than 10 years ago, I interviewed Joan after tracking down her contact information from someone in the local baseball community. The phone call remains one of the most treasured experiences of my sportswriting career.
Joan, who grew up in East Flatbush and worshipped at Our Lady Help of Christians, Midwood, recalled lots of great memories of her husband’s career as a player with the Brooklyn Dodgers and as the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets.
Ebbets Field was a home away from home for Joan, who used to make her own scorecards on paper to follow along with the game, especially Gil’s at-bats. On Aug. 31, 1950, Gil hit four home runs in a
single game, and Joan remembered the excitement of the moment.
“I couldn’t look!” she said. “But all of a sudden I heard, ‘Joanie! Joanie! Take your hands off your eyes! Look where it is. Centerfield!’”
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 the first month. Brooklyn had been all she had known her entire life.
“I was a Dodger fan ever since I knew what a baseball was,” Joan said. “I was still with the Dodgers, but being away from Brooklyn was a very big blow.”
Soon though, Gil was back with the Mets as a player and then as their manager. 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 their 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,” Joan said. “Maybe then I can have your undivided attention!”
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 Series champions.
“It was like he adopted first graders and made them college graduates,” Joan recalled.
At the time of our call, Joan remained perplexed as to why Gil was never enshrined in the Hall. While she said she tried not to discuss the matter, she also said not too many days went by without her hearing something related to the omission.
Finally though, Joan’s prayers were answered. On July 24, she sat quietly in her Brooklyn home on Bedford Avenue — the same one where she and Gil lived when he played for the Dodgers — and watched MLB Network as Gil achieved baseball immortality as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Once again, timing is everything. Joan knew she still had a little more time left to enjoy the outpouring of love and respect shown to her Hall-of-Fame husband these past few months.
The Queen of Brooklyn Baseball is now reunited with her king in heaven.
Hopefully now, Gil will give Joan the “undivided attention” she’s always sought!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.