New Gil Hodges Book Defies The Odds

I wouldn’t have tried such a feat, but I’m glad they did.

A tip of the collector cap to authors Tom Clavin and Danny Peary, the brave souls behind Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets, and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend (New American Library/Penguin Books, $26.95).

The authors interviewed 130 people to reconstruct the biography of Hodges, who wasn’t the most talkative man of his baseball generation. While Clavin and Peary quote from published work, they discovered quickly that reporters couldn’t count on Hodges for Casey Stengel-like quips or fiery criticisms of players.

Nevertheless, the book is a winner in showing Hodges as baseball’s heroic “Quiet Man.”

One fan, a 1950s teen, told the authors of the “John Wayne aura” that Hodges radiated, while saluting the Brooklyn first sacker for signing autographs and chatting with fans after games.

A seven-year-girl in the midst of a six-month stay in the hospital’s local polio ward remembered Hodges. When the kids sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame when the Dodgers came to visit, he scooped up the girl and danced with her when she shouted “Dodgers!” during the song. “Sixty years later, I remember that. I needed the hug Gil gave me when we danced.”

Teammate Carl Erskine talked about how Hodges would blow kisses to his wife after home runs. It seems she coached him out of a 1950 batting slump. Amazingly, Erskine mentions a few pages later that the first baseman’s savvy side — how he would rub up the game ball with a bit of pine tar during games to give his fellow Indiana native an advantage on the hill.

Credit Joan Hodges for sharing lots of personal memories of the spouse who died in 1972 on the golf course, just shy of his 48th birthday. Die-hard fans may have inklings of all Hodges did as a Dodger, Senator and Met. However, knowing him as a husband and father help paint a complete picture of this admirable individual.

Meanwhile, authors Clavin and Peary are impressive in their sincere pitch to get Hodges another look with Hall of Fame voters. Give their book a look, and you may agree.

Coming Monday: The place-based advantage most TTM collectors overlook.

Dodger Carl Erskine Honors Fans Daily

Pitch-perfect penmanship,
even in his 80s!

Where have all the Carl Erskines gone?

I don’t mean fellow Brooklyn Dodgers. I mean baseball AMBASSADORS. Retired? I don’t think so. Every day of the year, he’s honoring and thanking fans and collectors.

I asked “Oisk” about his feelings about autographs. Here’s his inspiring reply:

“I usually receive eight or ten letters on the average each day. I try to answer right away, because when I can’t, they pile up.

I do them all myself and read each one. I consider fans the backbone of the game — and I consider signing an extension of my career.”

Who writes? What do they say in their letters?

“When I read these requests, they range from fans who saw us play, young fans who have read about us, men in prison writing for their own kids — birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

I just can’t throw these requests away.”

How can we thank this Dodger hero?

“I was once interviewed by Baseball Collectors Digest. I said I don’t charge for signing, but ask they [collectors] help Special Olympics if they/you can. Now, I often get 5 dollars, a check for $10 to $25 to help our local Special Olympics.”

Erskine closed with a message to other major leaguers, past and present:

“I’m bothered by players who, or their agents, restrict their signing to make their autograph more valuable.

That’s an insult to the fan base that made their autograph sought after.

Carl Erskine”

Coming Monday: What did catcher Mike Piazza tell Turk Wendell when he went to the mound?

Red Danny Litwhiler’s Legacy: Go Beyond Stats

I missed out on writing to Danny Litwhiler, who held the distinction of being the oldest Cincinnati Red until his recent death at age 95.

His statistics aren’t overwhelming. Although anyone with more than 100 career homers isn’t a slouch.

His obituary told the untold story about Litwhiler. The outfielder posed for a picture with Jackie Robinson when the Dodgers visited Cincinnati in 1948. The gesture helped quell racial tensions.

Litwhiler’s questionable knee kept him out of the military until 1945. Nevertheless, he found a way to serve the war effort.

He molded future careers for Rick Miller, Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey as a college coach. During his collegiate career, Litwhiler pushed for innovations like radar guns and Diamond Grit to keep wet fields playable.

In 2000, he teamed with talented author and historian Jim Sargent to write Danny Litwhiler: Living The Baseball Dream.

Phillies fan Stan Price was one of the lucky ones who tracked down Litwhiler before the veteran’s health (and signing) went downhill beginning in 2009. You can tell tons about Litwhiler’s work ethic and love of the game from the photo — which Stan turned into an amazing custom card.

There are still Danny Litwhiler-ish men from baseball’s past out there. Do your homework, and you’ll find men whose biggest victories never fit into a box score.

Coming Thursday: Awesome insights from Twins outfielder Steve Brye.

Pitcher Ron Negray ‘Sold’ On All Sports

Is the smile same since 1956? Signature is!

Although the bulk of his career came as a Phillie, pitcher Ron Negray began and ended in Dodger blue.

That meant having Roy Campanella as a batterymate in 1952. Negray’s assessment of Campy?

“He had a great arm and personality.”

On April 5, 1957, Negray was traded back to the Dodgers. His reaction upon learning that the team was headed to Los Angeles isn’t what you might guess.

“I thought it was a good move for the Dodgers, financially.”

Most importantly, Negray spelled out how it feels to be featured on a baseball card, especially when someone wants that card autographed.

“I still feel the same today as before. It’s always nice to be thought of.”

 As a bonus, Negray added a letter recounting his life in sports — on an off the diamond.Most importantly, Negray spelled out how it feels to be featured on a baseball card, especially when someone wants that card autographed.

“I played pro baseball for fourteen years plus five years playing winter baseball. I played in Havana, Cuba; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Caracas, Venezuela and Dominican Republic, a total of eight winter seasons.

I played in the majors only a few years and spent most of my time in class AAA. Pacific Coast League, International League and American Association.

I had a great fourteen years playing pro ball and made many friends.

I was an athletic goods salesman for 34 years, traveling Ohio and Michigan.

I sold most of all the colleges and pro teams in my area. I also sold my products to sporting goods dealers. I sold uniforms, helmets, shoulder pads, training supplies, tape, etc.

Ron Negray”

Tomorrow: Will Chris James take 16-20 years to sign for you?

Dodgers Pitcher Clyde King Coached Himself!

If a cat could play baseball, it might be Clyde King. He may not have lived nine lives in the sport, but King came close. Pitcher, coach, manager, general manager, special assistant to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

I asked him about his six-hitter against Cincinnati in 1947. King starred on the mound and at bat, helping his own cause with a double and three RBI. His thoughts were of survival, however.

“I was worried about the ninth inning. I really wanted to finish that game!”

He debuted with Brooklyn in 1944 at age 20. Some historians sniff at the supposed diminished level of play, considering that so many baseball stars were serving in World War II. Eager newcomers like King may have plunked a fastball in the ribs of such critics.

“Happy to be playing, not worried about it being replacement players!”

Most telling in King’s note (on New York Yankees letterhead!) was a response to his successes as a coach or manager. Did he feel that he aided a career comeback, or gave a promising player the formula to shine? Instead, King noted his rookie experiences:

“In 1944, we had no pitching coach, so learned by asking many questions.”

Thanks to for the account of King’s silencing of Cincinnati. King’s life and career were subject of a 1999 book, which seems to be out of print. (Reviews, anyone?)

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