45 years ago today, tragedy rocked the baseball world. One calamity had already begun-the first baseball strike. But a much worse blow was about to fall on Mets’ fans and those of the former Brooklyn Dodgers. Our correspondent Stew Paul describes it better than I can.
“April 2, 1972-it was a Sunday and a bittersweet time! The Major League Baseball Players Strike was taking place! The Knicks were hanging tough, but sputtering with the absence of their great Center Willis Reed, out with a knee injury! The Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden for their regular season finale as forward and GAG line member Vic Hatfield scoring his 50th goal of the season! However, later that afternoon, a neighbor of mine from the apartment next door where I lived in Brooklyn, delivered some horrible news! He told me that Mets Manager Gil Hodges had passed away from a massive heart attack! He was 2 days away from what would have been his 48th Birthday! Like me, he lived in Brooklyn, where he had been a star player for the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the 40s and 50s! Just 2 1/2 years earlier, he guided the Mets to their first World Championship! I heard he started smoking again after the stress from the baseball strike! Keep in mind that exactly a year ago before the Mets were winning the NL East Title, he suffered his first heart attack in Atlanta, GA! He fought back from that to guide the Mets to the Promised Land! As a kid, I met Hodges at a baseball clinic in Brooklyn and he could not have been nicer! At first, I did not believe my neighbor and I tried not to be disrespectful to him! When the Knicks were playing the Baltimore Bullets in the first round of the NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden later that night, Knicks Public Address Announcer John Condon asked for a moment of silence after he announced that Hodges had passed away! I listened to the game on WNBC radio and Marv Albert, the Knicks broadcaster repeated the news! I suddenly lost it! I turned the radio off and started to sob like a baby! I couldn’t believe it since the reality of Hodges’ tragic death hit me! How could this happen? A few days later, they had Gil’s funeral and the streets on Brooklyn’s famed Bedford Avenue, where Hodges lived, was packed with people! Police Barricades were needed! 45 years have passed and Gil is still not in the Hall of Fame! He has been gone almost as long as he was alive! His widow, Joan is 91 years s old and still lives in the very same house that she and Gil had shared with their family for all these years! I will always remember Hodges and not just for 1969 alone! Hope he will get into the HOF while his widow is still alive and with baseball season starting, I hope the Mets can win it all for the late Gil Hodges! He may have lived only 47 years, but he made the most of it! Even though he’s been gone 45 years today, I hope this Mets team can win it all for him! Thank you for the memories and your kindness, Gil! You will always be remembered and missed! I was only 13 then and attending Brooklyn’s James J. Reynolds JHS as an 8th grader!”
Following on from Mr. Paul’s description, I will add that I was 3 days short of my 9th birthday on April 2, 1972. I had missed the 1969 World Series but discovered baseball and the Mets in particular in 1971. I barely knew what a labor strike was but I knew the 1972 season would not start on time because of it so I knew it must be terrible. My grandpa Wardlow, the family’s resident baseball fan brought me the news about Gil Hodges’ death. Like Mr. Paul, it was all I could do to believe such a thing could happen. I sort of knew about death. When President Eisenhower died in 1969, death to me meant all the good TV shows would be cancelled because of the news. Death hit home a year later when my maternal grandfather died. But I didn’t connect death with baseball men-players, announcers or managers. The death of Gil Hodges made me realize that baseball men could die like anybody else.
8 months later, the great Roberto Clemente was killed in a plane crash, reinforcing that knowledge that baseball men were flesh and blood and liable to be killed. Like Mr. Paul, I believe Hodges’ premature death has derailed his candidacy for the Hall of Fame and I think that’s a crime.