HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Gil Hodges Story
Author: Milton J. Shapiro
Publisher: Julian Messner, republished in 1961
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 10-14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Shapiro, Milton J. The Gil Hodges Story (published in 1960 by Julian Messner Inc., New York City, NY). I am not a huge sports fan. However, among the major sports, my favorite is baseball, and I have listened to enough play by play for professional baseball games through the years that when I saw this book at a used book sale I immediately recognized the name of Gil Hodges. Gilbert Ray Hodges was born on April 4, 1924, in Princeton, IN. His father was Charles, a coal miner, and his mother was the Irene. He had an older brother, Robert, and a younger sister, Marjorie. The family moved to nearby Petersburg, IN, when Gil was seven, and he was a star four-sport athlete at Petersburg High School, earning a combined seven varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track. In 1941, he declined a contract offer from the Detroit Tigers and instead attended Saint Joseph’s College. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, and appeared in one game for the team as a third baseman that year. He entered the United States Marine Corps during World War II, serving as an anti-aircraft gunner in the battles of Tinian and Okinawa and receiving a Bronze Star Medal and a commendation for courage under fire for his actions.
After his 1946 military discharge, Hodges returned to the Dodger organization as a catcher with the Newport News Dodgers of the Piedmont League. Called up to Brooklyn the following year, he saw action as a catcher in 1947, joining the team’s nucleus of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo. However, with the emergence of Roy Campanella behind the plate, Hodges was shifted by manager Leo Durocher to first base. When the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles, CA, Gil remained with the team. This is basically where the book ends. However, to complete the story, he was chosen in the 1961 MLB Expansion Draft, and became one of the original 1962 Mets. After eleven games with the Mets in 1963, he was traded to the Washington Senators so that he could replace Mickey Vernon as Washington’s manager. He managed the Senators through 1967 and then managed the New York Mets to the 1969 World Series title, one of the greatest upsets in Series history. On the afternoon of April 2, 1972, Hodges was in West Palm Beach, FL, completing a round of golf with Mets coaches when he suffered a sudden heart attack, collapsed en route to his motel room, and was rushed to the Good Samaritan Hospital where he died within twenty minutes of arrival.
In this biography, Hodges’ career is traced from his boyhood as a miner’s son up through his great victories on the diamond. Other than a few common euphemisms (durn, heck, gee, danged, and gosh) and a few references to chewing tobacco and smoking cigarettes, there is nothing really objectionable in this biography about an exceptional but highly underrated baseball player. One person commented, “Gold Glover and All Star Hodges’ stats are slightly too low for the fools to vote him into The Hall of Fame.” The eight time All-Star was one of the most versatile of the game’s greats and is generally recognized as the major leagues’ most outstanding first baseman in the 1950s. Author Milton J. Shapiro has written other biographies for young people about such famous baseball players as Sal Maglie, Jackie Robinson, Warren Spahn, Roy Campanella, Phil Ruzzuto, Mel Ott, and Willie Mays. There are still good players in baseball today, but it is nice to read about the golden days of baseball when real men played the game rather than so many of the primadonnas of our time. This book, which is packed with baseball detail and human interest, yet written in a straightforward and well paced style, will appeal primarily to die-hard baseball fans.