NEW YORK -- Their 50-year wait over, the family of Gil Hodges is as relieved to see the patriarch selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as they are grateful for the opportunity it provides kin he never met to understand the impact he made on baseball in New York City.
"It's more meaningful that the entire family is here -- children, spouses, grandchildren, nieces, nephews," Gil Hodges Jr. said Saturday morning, shortly before he and his sister Cynthia threw out ceremonial first pitches with their sister Irene's grandchildren, Louis and Logan, prior to the Mets' game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"They get to see the reflection of how people talk about him. People talk about him like they had dinner with him a month ago, which is just amazing. The impact that someone who didn't make it to 48 years old could have, 50 years after he passed away, to me it just gives you some idea of what kind of person he was."
Hodges was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in December by a special committee, ending half a century of waiting that included several close calls.
While Hodges hit 370 homers and made eight All-Star teams for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and Mets, he is best known for leading the Mets -- who'd never lost fewer than 95 games in their first six seasons of existence -- to a World Series title in just his second year as their manager in 1969.
Hodges died of a heart attack on April 2, 1972, two days shy of his 48th birthday.
"When you hear the words Gil Hodges, you just think class," Mets manager Buck Showalter said. "You walked into a room -- he could command a room. You knew who the leader of the room was, and he was it, without saying a word.
"He's one of the great pillars of the Mets' history."
Hodges' 95-year-old widow, Joan, still lives in Brooklyn and watched along with the couple's children as Gil came close to induction numerous times over the years. He got up to 63% of the vote on the writers' ballot -- 75% is required to earn election -- before his 15 years of eligibility ran out in 1983.
In 1993, Hodges missed out on election via the 16-member Veterans Committee when the vote of former teammate Roy Campanella was disallowed because the wheelchair-bound Campanella didn't attend the meeting. That dropped Hodges' total to 11, one shy of the 12 required to earn induction.
With the advancing age of their mother and the Golden Days Era not scheduled to convene again until late 2026, the Hodges family acknowledged they felt a certain sense of urgency leading up to the December meeting of the committee members -- which is why Irene was overcome with emotion when she got the call from Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch informing her of the news she, her siblings and their mother had waited so long to hear.
"I'm saying to myself 'No way, really, now?'" Irene Hodges said. "Of course, we all thought he deserved it many years ago. But that's irrelevant at this point. The only thing that matters is that he finally is in the Hall of Fame, where he belongs -- for us, to a degree, but mostly for my dad."