Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm Calling It "The Gil"

(The Mets celebrated the 40th anniversary of the miracle '69 Mets this weekend. All the old players mentioned how instrumental Gil Hodges was in the most improbable championship in American sports history. It just reinforced what I wrote below, when the Mets announced the new stadium would be called "Citi Field".)

"Gil Hodges is a Hall of Fame man.”-- Roy Campanella

As we all know, this is the last year for Shea Stadium. Next year, the Mets move next door to the stadium they are calling "Citifield", named after the financial services company Citigroup.

Before the Mets announced that they were going to name the new Stadium Citifield, a lot of media put pressure on the Mets to name the Stadium "Jackie Robinson Stadium".

After the Mets took the Citigroup cash, they compromised with the Robinson supporters by agreeing to put a Jackie Robinson Rotunda when you enter the Stadium. (The Mets also sent cash over to the Jackie Robinson Foundation to squash things.)

I will never call it Citifield. Nor do I think the Jackie Robinson Rotunda is a good idea. Let me explain:

Public works and public monuments should be named after the people who made it possible, or to honor those who came before us. It should be rooted in history. For example, Grand Army Plaza honors the Civil War heroes. If it were changed to "Kinko's Grand Army Plaza" it would be diminished.

Again, the Mets are free to take the cash, even if Citigroup, after running out of Arab countries to borrow money from, goes the way of Bear Stearns, and they have to find another corporation to pony up.

As for the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, I think it is a bad idea. Jackie Robinson is the most honored athlete in American sports history. His legacy is established, and honors upon honors have been bestowed upon the man. There is even an expressway named after him that gets you to the ballpark.

The problem is, Robinson has zero connection with the Mets. Nothing. Never played for them, never worked for them. Although the Mets, like every major league team, have retired the number 42 in his honor, somehow, I think 'Butch Huskey" when I think of a Met wearing number 42.

While Robinson has received every accolade, the man I am naming the stadium after has been fu*ked by major league baseball, and denied the honors that he richly deserves.

I am calling the Stadium "The Gil" after the great Gil Hodges.

Is there really anyone else?

Is there anyone else who embodies the necessary connection between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Mets?

Hodges was a Navy Man, a World War II hero, winning the Bronze Star for his heroics Okinawa.

He was a family man, married to Joan, with whom he had four children.

He was a Brooklyn man, a beloved Brooklyn man, who lived in Brooklyn and worked in Brooklyn.

The job he had in Brooklyn: being one of the best first basemen who ever lived. Consider:

1) When Hodges retired, his 370 home runs were the 2nd most of any right-handed hitter in baseball history; and 10th most of all time.

2) He drove in 100 runs for seven consecutive years (Mickey Mantle drove in 100 runs four times in his career).

3) From 1957 until 1974, he held the National League record for most career grand slams.

4) He was an anchor for the great Brooklyn Dodger teams.

5) He won the first three golden glove awards given to first basemen.
But it goes beyond the statistics.

There is a book that came out a couple of years ago "Praying For Gil Hodges". The title comes from Gil's slump during the 1952 World Series. In Brooklyn churches priests urged their parishioners to pray for Gil Hodges, to get him out of the slump. And they did. And he didn't get out of the slump. But they never held it against him, and they never booed him. Think that can happen again?

As for his Met credentials, Gil was an Original Met. Who was the first Met to hit a home run? Gil, of course.

But it was as manager of the Miracle 69 Mets where Gil cemented his legacy forever. His no nonsense approach was best illustrated by his slowing walking out to left field to take Cleon Jones out of a game during the pennant race for not hustling. (How many times has Ralph Kiner told that one?)

Gil set the tone. Pitching. Defense. Timely hitting. Tom Seaver calls him the most important man to ever wear a Met uniform. Forty years after the fact, the young men who played for him are not so young any more, and still speak of him in reverential tones.

The Mets won the World Series in 1969, three months after the first man landed on the moon. Both were indications that all things were possible. He was our Neil Armstrong, in white, blue & orange.

In the spring of 1972 he was tragically taken away from us. He was just 47 years old.

He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Major League Baseball has never done the right thing by Gil Hodges. That he is not in the Hall of Fame is a disgrace. The Mets also dropped the ball here, by not honoring Hodges with either the Stadium name or the Rotunda.

So I will honor him.

If you hear me say "Meet me at "The Gil" you will know what I mean.

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