These days, it’s hard to know what day of the week it is, let alone the date on the calendar.
But April 2 will always stand out for fans of the 1969 Miracle Mets and the players from that World Series-winning team.
On that date in 1972, manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack while walking to his room at the team’s spring training hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. Hodges, who had just finished playing golf, would have turned 48 two days later.
He wasn’t managing the Mets in an exhibition game that day because the players had gone on strike the day before. The walkout ended on April 13 and Yogi Berra took over as manager.
Hodges will be among those considered for the Hall of Fame by the 16-person Golden Days Committee this December. If he is not elected, his many supporters will have to wait another five years before the committee meets again.
For some, it’s amazin’ — and not in a good way — that the former slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers and architect of one of the greatest worst-to-first stories in sports history doesn’t already have a plaque in Cooperstown.
Hodges’ omission got a fresh re-airing last year when the Mets celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1969 club. Will that lingering memory be enough to get him over the finish line this time?
“Hopefully he does get recognized this year,” former Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool said in a telephone interview. “He certainly deserves it. He was a great player. During that era, he was one of the premier power hitters in the National League on a good ballclub. He played both sides of the field. He was a great defensive player at first and a great offensive player. Managing, he was only there a couple of years, so we really don’t know how good he was going to be. He was great in ’69. I think we would have won a couple more championships — certainly we would have won in ’73 if Gil was the manager.”
Who knows what would have happened if Hodges had been in the dugout when the Mets lost to the A's in seven games in the 1973 World Series? Players from that team still lament Berra’s ill-fated decision to go with Tom Seaver on short rest in Game 6. The Mets lost Games 6 and 7.
What transpired at the West Palm Beach Ramada Inn 48 years ago also can be recalled as if it were yesterday. Lefthander Jerry Koosman remembers he had just finished showering after throwing an improvised bullpen session on the hotel grounds when he heard the stunning news.
“I went downstairs and Red Foley from the Daily News was down there and he says, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ '' Koosman said. “I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘The ambulance was here and took Gil to the hospital.’ I said, ‘Which hospital? I want to go.’ He said, ‘I want to go, too.’
“We caught a cab. We went to the hospital and I said, ‘Where’s Gil Hodges?’ They directed me to a room where Rube [Walker, the pitching coach] and the coaches, some of the front-office personnel were in there. Everybody’s heads were hanging down.
“I went up to Rube and I said, ‘Rube, what’s going on? How’s Gil?’ And Rube says, ‘Gil’s dead.’ And I was just dumbfounded. Shocked. None of us could talk. It was absolutely devastating. We thought our world had ended. We didn’t know what was going to happen. He was our leader. He was the rock.”
As a player, Hodges was a key piece for the Dodgers. In 2,006 games with the Dodgers and 65 with the Mets (1962-63), he hit .273 with 370 home runs, 1,274 RBIs and an .846 OPS. He hit at least 30 homers six times in a seven-year span, surpassing 40 twice, and drove in at least 100 runs seven straight years, with a high of 130.
Hodges was an All-Star from 1949-55 and again in 1957, and in that nine-year span, he had a .284/.372/.515 slash line with 286 homers and 972 RBIs.
Will it be enough this time? Is there anything more to be said about Hodges’ qualifications?
“I don’t know what more can be added,” said Koosman, who is scheduled to have his No. 36 jersey retired by the Mets on June 13 if baseball returns in time. “There’s been so many things that have been said about how many of us want Gil in the Hall of Fame and how much he deserves it.”