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Family of Gil Hodges ecstatic about election to Baseball Hall of Fame

Mets manager Gil Hodges gets a kiss from

Mets manager Gil Hodges gets a kiss from his wife Joan after the Mets won the World Series at Shea Stadium on Oct. 16, 1969. Credit: Newsday/Stan Wolfson

Disappointment pockmarked the decades for the family of the late Gil Hodges, told on dozens of occasions that he would not be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, at least not yet.

Hodges himself never expected such an honor, Gil Hodges Jr. said. But in the years since he died of a heart attack in 1972, they wanted it for him — and his wife, Joan Hodges, especially wanted it for him.

So when the phone rang Sunday at the Brooklyn home where Joan and Gil lived when he starred for the Dodgers, and where Joan still resides, their daughter, Irene, didn’t expect to hear what she heard.

"When I received the call and I heard ‘I am very happy to tell you . . . ’ I was hysterical. Cried terribly," Irene said Monday during a Zoom conference with her siblings and two of Hodges’ former players, Ed Kranepool and Art Shamsky, a virtual gathering that was part news conference, part reunion, part celebration. "Because I honestly couldn’t believe it was really happening."

On the other end of the phone was Jane Forbes Clark, the chair of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors. She wanted to tell the Hodgeses that Gil, on a ballot for the 35th time, finally had gained the requisite support: votes from 12 of 16 members of the Golden Days Era committee.

Aghast in the best way, Irene told Clark she would give the phone to Joan, so Clark could tell her the good news. The Hodges kids hadn’t informed their mother about Gil’s latest Hall eligibility, because they wanted to avoid another round of the seemingly inevitable disappointment. She always took it the hardest when he was shut out. They learned to remind her that Gil’s falling short meant that the campaigning — and the remembering, the appreciating, the loving — would continue through the next time and the time after that and so on.

The family was hopeful this time around, mostly out of need. Joan is 95. Gil’s next shot would not have come for another five years.

"Now when it’s finally taken place, we’re all just so happy and so grateful," Gil Jr. said. "Mom got to see it, and that’s really what matters to all of us."

Irene described the scene: "[Mom] put her hand on her chest and said, ‘Really? He really did it? Oh, Gil, I’m so happy.’ She was thrilled. She was just absolutely thrilled. I cried through the whole thing."

Were he still alive, Gil would have been shocked, Irene said, recalling the time as a little girl when she asked if he would be a Hall of Famer and he said, "No, not me." Gil Jr., who as the lone boy sometimes went on road trips with his dad, said the Hall never was a topic of conversation.

"He underestimated himself and how good he was," Irene said.

The piece of his baseball life that Hodges took the most pride in, Gil Jr. said, was his contributions to World Series championships.

He drove in the only two runs in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only title. When the Los Angeles Dodgers won it all in 1959, he led the regulars with a .391 average. And, of course, he managed the 1969 Mets, whose unlikely turnaround became the stuff of legend and helped solidify his own.

"We would not have won the World Series in 1969 without Gil being the manager of that team," Shamsky said. "That’s the best thing I can say about him."

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