Well, this is it, the last post in our “tough guy” series, where we tried to celebrate a certain type of ballplayer we admire, the hard-nosed competitor. Maybe not the best player on the squad, but the kind of guy that every good team needs. Let’s take a look at who we’ve got starting the game.
Top, L-R: Stearns, Delgado, Backman. Middle, L-R: Harrelson, Knight, Koosman. Bottom, L-R: Henderson, Dykstra, Staub.
It’s interesting, because we see a disproportion of guys from playoff teams. Maybe that’s our own bias, it’s natural for fans to admire the winners — and perhaps it’s a common flaw of fans to project noble characteristics onto those winning players (see: the career of Derek Jeter). But on the other hand, maybe those teams won, in part, because they enjoyed more than their fair share of tough-minded ballplayers.
But Mike, there’s been a problem with these Mets. And I am so glad we can finally rectify a great wrong. In celebration of their 50th Anniversary, the Mets organization named the All-Time Team. And they did a great job with it. But as much as I loved and respected Davey Johnson, they whiffed badly when they failed to name Gil Hodges as manager.
Yes, they did, I was shocked when Gil was not named. I fully understand how many people are too young to remember the 1969 Mets at this point, and so things like this happen. It’s much easier for people to relate to events they witness versus those they study. But as someone who lived through 1969, the best thing I can say about that season is I cannot write anything to do it justice. The Mets were not just a New York story, but a national story — a huge one. The entire season was larger than life.
It was an insane turnaround, the team won 100 games, after losing over 100 games in five of the previous seven seasons. A turnaround that started the day Hodges became manager in 1968. So no argument from me that Gil was the greatest manager we ever had. I guess the only question left was did he do it with toughness?
When you listen to Seaver or Koosman talk about Gil, or read Harrelson’s book, one thing comes through loud and clear. They all loved him, they respected him, and they were scared shitless of the man. Not because he was a raging lunatic, but because he was made of iron. There was absolutely no bullshit with Gil Hodges. He set the tone, he helped create the circumstances.
If we’re lucky in our life, we encounter someone like Gil, maybe it was a fifth-grade teacher who had some of those qualities. The person who was demanding, who expected your best every single day, and despite all the toughness and rigor, you never resented that person — because you knew that he or she had your back. That was Gil Hodges. I really believe that the miracle began with Gil.
Sometimes it comes down to a moment. When I look at the team we have assembled, a lot of these guys got the nod due to one shining event. Buddy staring Pete Rose right in the face and never blinking. Rusty slamming into that wall in the same 1973 NLCS. Ray Knight going deep in game seven in 1986. For me, with Gil, it was the walk to left field.
You were actually at that game, right?
If you go to enough games you will see some memorable things. Well on July 30, 1969, I was sitting through an awful day at Shea Stadium and at a very unlikely time I saw something I have never forgotten. The Mets were playing a doubleheader at Shea versus the Astros that day, and I headed to the park hoping we could use a sweep as a way to inch closer to the first-place Cubs. Instead, the Mets got destroyed 16-3 in game one and quickly fell behind 7-0 in game two. Somehow, sitting in the stands that day, it felt like the beginning of the end, a bubble bursting. Oh well, it had been fun while it lasted. And then it happened.
Johnny Edwards of the Astros hit a double to left and Cleon Jones jogged over and lobbed the ball back into the infield. I can’t say I noticed the jogging, but I sure knew he tossed the ball back in like he was checked out for the day. Of course, I was not alone, and once the play ended, Hodges was out of the dugout and came walking out onto the field. Like anyone else, at first I thought he was coming for the pitcher, but once he passed the mound I knew exactly where he was heading. Straight out to left field, to confront our All-Star for not hustling in a blowout. It was a message to everyone at the park that any player who played for Gil was required to play hard for 27 outs — no matter the situation. Was it an effective message?
The Mets went 45-19 from that day on and beat out the Cubs by 8 full games to come in first place. And if you don’t know how the postseason went in 1969, you have stumbled upon the wrong blog.
We have put together a true collection of characters with our “2 Guys” Team. If they actually did ever play as a unit, I know one thing with certainty. The only guy who could handle them wore number 14.
Congratulations to our “2 Guys” Team Manager, the great Gil Hodges.