Right Field

Gil Hodges, Miracle Maker

A great book review of Gil Hodges by William McGurn:

At a critical moment in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” Inspector Javert bursts into a room where he expects to find the escaped convict Jean Valjean. Instead, he comes upon Sister Simplice, a nun whose distinctive trait is that not once in her life has she told a lie. Such is her reputation that when she tells Javert, falsely, that she is alone and hasn’t seen Valjean, the inspector begs her pardon and recedes without a search.

Baseball had its own Sister Simplice moment. It came in the final game of the 1969 World Series between the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles, when Mets batter Cleon Jones claimed that an errant pitch had hit him in the foot before rolling into the New York dugout. To back the claim, Mets manager Gil Hodges brought the ball out to the umpire and showed him a mark made by shoe polish. Mr. Jones was awarded first base and would score on a home run that would prove the turning point in a victory that gave the Mets their first world championship.

Many years after that event, Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman told an interviewer that he had grabbed the ball when it rolled into the dugout. Hodges, he said, told him to rub it against his shoe—hence the polish. Even so, there are those who believe the mere suggestion to be blasphemous. They include Cleon Jones, who has said: “You’ve got to know the type of individual Gil Hodges was. There was no way Gil Hodges would ever do anything dishonest.”

For sportswriters Tom Clavin and Danny Peary—the authors of “Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, the Miracle Mets, and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend”—their subject’s sterling character presents its own challenges. It’s as if someone writing an authoritative biography of George Washington were to find that all the old chestnuts were true: the cherry tree, the silver dollar thrown across the Potomac, the kneeling to pray in the snow of Valley Forge. In Hodges’s case, even his failings—the authors fault him for smoking too much, for keeping his feelings bottled up, for not talking about his combat experience as a Marine in World War II—speak to a certain ideal of manliness.

The rest here.

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