Last Friday night the Mets honored the late Gil Hodges on his induction into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame. Hodges is the man most responsible for changing the image of the Mets from lovable losers to that of a solid major league team. When he was hired in 1968 Hodges guaranteed that the Mets would win 70 games that year. While that figure now seems to be a fairly modest goal for a baseball team to strive for, it was a huge milestone at the time. Hodges had many doubters but the Mets ended up winning 73 games in ’68 and became World Series champions the following year.
Four players from that magical 1969 team, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, Bud Harrelson and Tom Seaver were on hand at Shea to pay tribute to their beloved skipper. Seaver, the greatest player in franchise history, credited Hodges for being the person most responsible for making him a Hall of Fame pitcher. What Tom Terrific did not say was that if Hodges had not suffered a fatal heart attack in April 1972 the odds are that he would have played his entire career as a Met and the horrific decline that the team suffered in the late 1970s would never have happened.
It is a shame that Gil Hodges is not enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. While the Mets organization can’t do anything about that injustice they can make sure that his legacy is always remembered in Queens. Just as the Phillies have a statue of Richie Ashburn, arguably the most beloved player in their history, outside of Citizens Bank Park, the Mets should give Hodges a similar honor when Citi Field opens in 2009.
When Mets general manager Omar Minaya acquired veteran first baseman Jeff Conine from the Reds a couple of weeks ago for a a pair of low level minor leaguers it did not make banner headlines. Conine is very reliable hitter who has long been regarded as a tough out by opposing pitchers. In addition he has lengthy post-season experience and a pair of world championship rings. The Mets are particularly fortunate to have his services now that Carlos Delgado is out indefinitely with a leg injury.
Willie Randolph has to be keeping his fingers crossed that the Mets will have a good weekend against the Phillies and not just for the purpose of avenging the humiliating four-game sweep at their hands in the City of Brotherly Love two weeks ago. If the Mets can put some distance in the NL East standings between themselves and their geographic rivals then Randolph can hopefully have starters Oliver Perez and John Maine skip a turn in the rotation so that they will be better rested when the playoffs begin. It is no secret that Perez and Maine have been mediocre at best since the All-Star break.
A number of Mets players claimed that the Phillies were stealing their signs and that “cheating” helped cause their defeats. While that sounds like sour grapes on the Mets’ part, veteran Philadelphia radio and TV sports anchor Howard Eskin (think of him as the Philly answer to Mike Francesa) thinks that there is validity to the Mets’ argument. “There are cameras all over Citizens Bank Park and you can be sure that the Phillies use them to their best advantage,” Eskin stated two weeks ago on his Sunday night “Sports Final” program broadcast on that city’s NBC affiliate, WCAU (Channel 10).
In my column last week I blasted the sad state of U.S. men’s tennis. The outlook is actually bleaker on the women’s side. Even ardent tennis fans are hard-pressed to name any quality American players on the WTA Tour with the exception of the Williams sisters. This was the first time since 1988 since both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open finals did not feature an American player. I have a feeling that it won’t be the last.