Interview with author of new biography on Gil Hodges
BY JOE RINI
Not only did 24-year-old lefty Steven Matz make a successful major league debut on June 29, he also etched himself into the record books – and helped his grandfather become an Internet sensation.
Matz was a second round draft pick in 2009 but missed the first two years of his pro career after undergoing Tommy John surgery. However, the Long Island native showed he was a pitcher worth waiting for as he pitched 7 2/3 innings of five-hit ball in picking up his first career victory in a 7-2 Mets win against the Reds on Sunday. However, the young lefty was also the hitting star of the game, going 3 for 3 and becoming the first pitcher in the last century to knock in four runs in his major league debut.
Matz became the latest young Mets starting pitcher to make a successful major league debut in recent years. I asked manager Terry Collins before Tuesday’s game about the organization’s success with its young starters when called to the majors and he attributed it to the patience of the front office and coaching in the minor league. He mentioned the importance of teaching young pitchers in the minor leagues about command, secondary pitchers, and poise. In particular, he cited minor league pitching coach and former Cy Young winner Frank Viola, in saying, “He knew how to pitch…he’s a pretty good voice in your ear,” to teach the importance of command.
It’s summer reading time and if you’re looking for a book to read on the beach or while lounging on the backyard deck, I highly recommend the newly published biography, “Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life” by Mort Zachter (published by University of Nebraska Press). Mr. Zachter shared some of his insights on Hodges in a telephone interview with the Rockland County Times.
While Hodges’ credentials for the Hall of Fame have been debated for decades, that debate is only briefly mentioned in this book. Instead, Zachter, who described the former Brooklyn Dodger All-Star and Mets manager as a childhood hero (they lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood), said he wrote the book to highlight the “Hall of Fame Life” lead by Hodges and the positive impact he had on others and how he appreciated being a role model to others.
To Zachter, Hodges’ life exemplified the quote from the ancient Greek statesman Pericles, who wrote, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” For instance, Zachter related how former pitching standout Claude Osteen wrote to him saying, “I’ve been waiting 50 years” to tell the world about the impact Hodges had on his career, echoing lessons about professionalism that Tom Seaver has used about Hodges.
Also, to illustrate the character Hodges possessed and why he chose to write about him, Zachter mentioned that on the night one of his players on the Senators, Jim King, hit three homeruns, Hodges was asked if he had ever hit three homeruns like King, and Hodges did not reveal that he was one of only nine players to hit four homeruns in one game. Zachter invoked the Hebrew word anivut in saying of Hodges, “There was a humilty and self restraint” about Hodges in knowing that, “It was [King’s] moment to shine.”
Besides evoking the glory days of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1969 Mets in telling the story of Hodges’ life, Zachter also goes into detail about Hodges distinguished and dangerous service in Okinawa during World War II and his often overlooked tenure managing the Senators. As a fan of baseball history, I even found the notes about Zachter’s decade of research interesting.
The Mets enter play on Wednesday in second place with a record of 40-38 and enter a difficult stretch of games that will take them to Los Angeles and San Francisco before returning to Citi Field on July 10.