Mets honor Hodges before opener

Mets honor Hodges before opener

NEW YORK -- Since their inception in 1962, the Mets always have had a Brooklyn flavor, beginning with their color scheme -- Dodgers blue and Giants orange. And their first roster featured players with Dodgers history, none more prominent and popular than Gil Hodges, the first baseman in the Mets' first game, the player who hit the first home run in the franchise's history and, of course, the manager of their first World Series championship.

Hodges never has been far from the organization's heart. Accordingly, the Mets chose to recognize his recent induction into the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame to underscore the life of the man who played such prominent roles in the franchise's history.

He was honored in ceremonies at Shea Stadium on Friday night before the Astros-Mets game with a number of Mets dignitaries participating -- Tom Seaver, a member of the Marine Corps Hall since 2003, Bud Harrelson, Yogi Berra, Ed Charles, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda. Also in attendance were Hodges' widow, Joan, and two of his former Dodgers teammates, Ralph Branca and Joe Pignatano.

Seaver, as always, lavished praise on the manager who essentially molded him into the Hall of Famer he became.

"The most influential person in my professional career," Seaver said of Hodges, before he addressed the Shea crowd. He also characterized Hodges as the most important person to wear the Mets uniform. "He set the standard for players on the field and even the front office. He had a Marine Corps mentality. To be less than what you could be was unacceptable to him. He was the guy I wanted next to me in a foxhole.

"I learned to be a professional through Gil. ... He seemed aloof, and he could be that way to young players. But he was so intense, focused. He was doing his job but he caught your attention."

Seaver acknowledged the menacing look -- free of expression -- that often was evident on Hodges' face.

"And he had the physical presence to back that up," Seaver said. "Gil changed the way you played the game."

The Hall opened its doors to Hodges, a former Marine sergeant, and three others in ceremonies at Quantico, Va., on Aug. 17. Also inducted were former Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertell; former 49ers defensive tackle Leo Nomellini, a member of the all-time NFL team; and former NBA and Seton Hall great Bobby Wanzer.

A 30-piece Marine Corps Band played the "Marine Corps Hymn" in Hodges' honor.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.