Gil Hodges file

METSellaneous: Joey Wahler On The Mets: Could ’69 Mets Silver Anniversary Get Hodges To Cooperstown?

June 25, 2019 - 12:29 pm

By Joey Wahler

When the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Mets is celebrated this weekend at Citi Field, Jay Horwitz says he’s hoping it’ll help finally get their manager, Gil Hodges, into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“I’m just hoping some of the PR that we generate from this weekend, from this year, will help bring attention to what Gil did in his career,” said Horwitz, the team’s former, long-time vice president of media relations turned vice president of alumni public relations.

To a man, those ’69 Mets say Hodges’ leadership and toughness were most responsible for turning them into winners, shocking the Orioles in a five-game World Series following seven losing seasons to start the club’s history. After suffering a heart attack in the spring of 1972, Hodges died just two days before his 48th birthday. The ex-Dodger, who spent most of his 18-year career in Brooklyn, hit 370 homers, had seven straight 100-RBI seasons, and was his era’s top fielding first baseman.

Still, since being removed from the Hall of Fame’s regular ballot, Hodges has received little induction support from either the old Veterans Committee or its replacement, the Today’s Game Era Committee. As a manager, Hodges was so revered that when he would visit the mound, ’69 Met first baseman Art Shamsky says he wouldn’t join the meeting unless summoned by him. Shamsky’s new book, After The Miracle, describes Seaver still getting choked up in 2017 discussing Hodges, his mentor.

Hodges will be represented at Saturday’s anniversary festivities by his widow, Joan Hodges, now 92, and his son, Gil Hodges, Jr.

“And if some way possible we can manage to get Gil Hodges elected to the Hall of Fame it would be a great thing,” Horwitz said.

Plans for this 50th anniversary weekend have been spearheaded by Mets executive director of broadcasting & events, Lorraine Hamilton, supported by Horwitz and many others. Minus no-shows due to death or health issues, 17 or 18 Miracle Met representatives are expected Saturday, Horwitz says. Most notably absent will be Tom Seaver, suffering from dementia, and his wife, Nancy.

“Tom will be well represented by his family,” said Horwitz, adding that video tributes from Tom Terrific’s ex-teammates will be shown. Indeed, on Thursday the Mets are renaming 126th St. outside Citi Field, calling it 41 Tom Seaver Way.

During the spring of 1983 when Seaver began his second Met stint, The Franchise was in the whirlpool at the team’s St. Petersburg complex, when Horwitz, in his third year on the job, introduced himself.

“He says, ‘Come to the whirlpool kid, I can’t hear you,’ Horwitz recalled. “In my new suit that I just bought, he took the hose and stuck it down my leg. I was getting flooded from the whirlpool and I’m trying to hold a conversation with Tom Seaver.”

Attending this weekend is Ron Swoboda, who has kept in contact with Seaver. “He spoke to him on the phone, he was looking down on his finger,” Horwitz said of Swoboda. “He says, ‘Without Tom Seaver I don’t have a ring on my finger.'’’

Despite battling Alzheimer’s, Bud Harrelson will be there. After his recent kidney transplant, so too will Ed Kranepool, who Horwitz says is still comped at city restaurants for his team’s amazing feat 50 years ago. Cleon Jones, who caught Davey Johnson’s fly to left ending the ’69 World Series, will be on hand. For Jones, who hit .340 that year, Saturday will be something of a make-good.

“When the Mets clinched in Game 5 in ’69, Cleon never really got a chance to celebrate because the fans came on the field,” Horwitz said. To escape the throngs, “He was supposed to go in the right field bullpen with Swoboda and (Tommie) Agee, but after he caught the ball those guys left already,” Horwitz said. “So Cleon had to go back and hop the wall in left field.”

Since playing, Jones is active near his hometown of Mobile, AL, helping rejuvenate neighboring Africatown, which has fallen on hard times. It was formed in 1860 by the last known illegal shipment of slaves to the United States. Aided by his wife, Angela, Jones remains known in that area beyond being a ’69 Met.

“In my job now, I’ve been able to kind of shed some light about what he’s been doing,” Horwitz said. “Six days a week, going out into the community, renovating houses, and building houses, mowing lawns.“

Among the deceased from the ’69 Mets are Agee, Donn Clendenon, Ed Charles, Don Cardwell, Tug McGraw, Cal Koonce, general manager Johnny Murphy, coaches Yogi Berra, Rube Walker and Ed Yost, and trainer Gus Mauch. All have family coming this weekend. 

“Everybody who was a part of the ’69 team will be represented in some way,” Horwitz said.

Pitcher Gary Gentry is unavailable due to illness. Joe Pignatano, age 89, the ’69 bullpen coach known for working on his tomato garden in Shea’s right field pen, was planning to attend.​

“He’s healthy but unfortunately he fell and broke his hip and he can’t travel,” Horwitz said. “Al Weis can’t make it, he has an illness in the family,” Horwitz said of the light-hitting infielder, who homered in Game 5 of the ’69 World Series.

Even little-used, ‘69 reserves Rod Gaspar and Bobby Pfeil are among those who’ll be honored in Flushing.

“I think to a man they’re really just looking forward to sitting around over the weekend, and reminisce what they’ve accomplished,” Horwitz said.

In his new role, Horwitz has arranged Mets Alumni Weekends at Citi Field, bringing back ex-Mets, interviewing some on his bi-monthly Amazin’ Mets Alumni Podcast

“We’re just trying to reach out to guys who’ve been forgotten for some reason, who were a big part of Mets history,” Horwitz said.

Amazingly – pun intended – a half-century later those ’69 Mets will still be stirring emotions this weekend, even without Seaver attending.

“Even though Tom won’t be there physically, he’ll be in everybody’s heart, and everybody will be thinking about him,” Horwitz said. “He’ll be well represented in other ways.”

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