April 2, 1972 began like so many other spring Sunday of Gil Hodges’ life: Church and a round of golf with friends.
After attending an early Easter service in Florida, Hodges met his coaches on the golf course. The foursome of Hodges, Joe Pignatano, Rube Walker and Eddie Yost played 27 holes at the Palm Beach Lakes course before calling it a day. As the group walked from the course back to the clubhouse, Hodges collapsed and died of a massive heart attack just two days prior to his 48th birthday.
In his blog post, former journalist Joe Capozzi described it this way:
It was just after 5 p.m. when the foursome broke up. Hodges steered his golf cart to the pro shop and pulled off his spiked golf shoes.
“He said he was really tired, and I was a little surprised when he said that,” Bobby Erickson, the club’s golf pro that day.
“I said, ‘How many holes did you play?’ He said they played 27 holes. ‘Did you take carts?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I took a cart. I’m just beat.'”
“He came out and said, ‘Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, Bob.’ I said, ‘Alright, Gil, we’ll see you tomorrow’ and he proceeded to leave,” Erickson recalled.
“I’ve always told people I was the last person to talk to him alive.'”
After exiting the pro shop, Hodges walked down a path behind the driving range and across the Ramada Inn parking lot. He was headed to his room to wash up for dinner.
“Gil was walking, then tumbled backwards,’’ Yost told reporters.
Pignatano later recalled how Hodges’ head hit the concrete sidewalk: “I put my hand under Gil’s head, but before you knew it, the blood stopped. I knew he was dead. He died in my arms.”
Erickson said not even 10 minutes had passed since he said good-bye to Hodges when an ambulance, all lights and sirens, sped up to the golf course. The paramedics apparently knew they were responding to an emergency involving Hodges.
“They asked me where he was. I said he walked toward the Ramada Inn,” he said.
Although the death certificate would say he died on arrival at Good Samaritan Medical Center, doctors still tried to save him.
His coaches and his team were shocked.
“I was floored,” Tug McGraw told the New York Times after the news broke. “I really didn’t know what to do … I couldn’t believe it. I was confused, really in bad shape … the next morning I got the papers and saw it in black and white and thought, ‘it’s unbelievable.'”
“I’m not going to realize it fully until I walk in that clubhouse and he’s not sitting there behind a desk,” said Tom Seaver. “He gave every player on the club a living example of how to be a professional.”
Hodges played 18 seasons in the majors, 16 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and his final year-and-one-half as a member of the original New York Mets. He went on to manage the Washington Senators from 1963-1967 before taking over the reigns of the Mets. Hodges led the Mets to their first World Series title one year later (1969). He compiled a won-loss record of 339-303 (.523) in four seasons as manager of the Mets.
“If not for Gil Hodges, there would be no ‘69 Mets as we know it today. Any other manager, in my opinion, couldn’t have gotten 25 players to buy in to what he was doing. A manager’s job is to get his players up and respond to the situation, and Gil did that each and every day.” – Cleon Jones (MLB.com)
“Playing for Gil Hodges was special, because he was one of the guys that I watched on TV when I was 4, 5 years old. To me, he was the strong, silent type. He had an easy demeanor about him. But you could see he was a big, strong guy and if you crossed him, you didn’t want to do that.” – Ken Singleton (MLB.com)
“… [Hodges] made me a better player, a better person … He gave me an opportunity to play. … Gil was a great leader. He knew the game. He didn’t make mistakes. Most managers shouldn’t cost you a ballgame. They should add to the ballclub, and Gil was that type of person.” – Ed Kranepool (MLB.com)
“No one had more impact on my career than Gil Hodges. Playing for him was a learning experience, and he was a tower of strength. Not everybody liked him, but everybody respected him. He went about his job in a very professional manner, and it caused me to do the same with my job.” – Tom Seaver/Tom Seaver’s All-Time Baseball Greats
ADDITIONAL PRESS FROM HODGES LIFE AND DEATH
- Hodges Dies of Heart Attack (New York Times // April 3, 1972)
- A Fond Farewell to Gil Hodges (New York Times // April 4, 1972)
- They’ll always be playing for Hodges (New York Times // April 5, 1972)
- Hodges Funeral marked by quiet, simple rites (New York Times // April 5, 1972)
- Hodges Dead (The Sporting News // April 15, 1972)
- Yogi’s the Boss, But Mets will play for Gil (The Sporting News // April 22, 1972)
- Mets retire No. 14 worn by Hodges (The Sporting News // April 29, 1972)
- Flatbush Faithful pay last respects to Hodges (New York Times // May 5, 1972)
- Hodges widow will get $13,680 annual income (The Sporting News // May 13, 1972)
- Gil Hodges, 50 years after his tragic death in West Palm Beach, is finally joining baseball’s elite (Joe Capozzi // March 30, 2022)