How beloved and respected was Gil Hodges during his playing career? Enough that when he sank into a ferocious batting slump crossing the end of the 1952 season and the beginning of the 1953 season, the entire borough of Brooklyn, if not all New York City, took up prayers for him. A devout Roman Catholic, Hodges was genuinely touched that even non-Catholic churches joined the prayer chain.
“I lost a ballgame, but I gained a friend.” Thus did former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca describe the aftermath that really mattered when it came to surrendering baseball’s still most famous home run, a sweet friendship with New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson that was compromised by an ugly revelation in 2001.
Thomson died in Georgia at 86 in 2010. Branca died this morning in a Rye, New York nursing home at 90. About a decade before Thomson’s death, Joshua Prager revealed in the Wall Street Journal that there may have been more to the 1951 Giants’ stupefying comeback to force the fabled pennant playoff than met the eye. Or, perhaps more to the point, the eye in the sky.
Gil Hodges is getting another crack at the Hall of Fame. So are Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, and Maury Wills. So is Bob Howsam, who built the Big Red Machine. Thank the Golden Era Committee, one of the three committees mandated to replace the former Veterans Committee to review the Hall of Fame credentials of those who didn’t quite make the Baseball Writers Association of America cuts in the past.
Let’s see. A harmless Milwaukee Brewers fan disgusted over Ryan Braun shows up at Miller Park last Wednesday. She shows her contempt for Braun’s duplicitous behaviour by wearing a T-shirt replica of Braun’s uniform jersey—with “F” and “D” replacing “B” and “N” in Braun’s name above the familiar number 8. And Miller Park security offers a choice between turning the shirt inside-out or leaving the ballpark.
When Johnny Damon saw the writing on the Cleveland Indians’ wall, he didn’t kid himself. If the Indians hit the skids, Damon mused, he’d be the first one to go. Just past the All-Star break, Damon went, designated for assignment and released.
Today, I’d rather think about Barry Larkin and Ron Santo going into the Hall of Fame, Tim McCarver going in as the Frick Award recipient, and Bob Elliott going in as the Spink Award recipient. Thank Murray Chass for putting that to one side for now. Chass, himself a Hall of Fame baseball writer (longtime New York Times reporter and columnist whose specialties included acute analyses of the business side of the game), has uncorked yet another in his periodic series which could be called “Valentine’s Day,” considering that Bobby Valentine has been a particular bete noire of Chass’s since Chass was still a Timesman and Valentine was the manager of the New York Mets.
I was reading Steve Henson’s charming profile of a spring training day in the life of Tommy Lasorda this morning. Now 84, Lasorda puts in twelve-hour days as perhaps the Dodgers’ number one ambassador on and off the field, touring around the gathering fans and driving his golf cart from spot to spot checking the major and minor leaguers alike. (“You couldn’t hit my curveball,” Lasorda, a one-time relief pitcher, needled Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp. “You know what I used to say when they played against me? ‘Your heart belongs to mama but your behind belongs to me’.”)