Some years ago Leo Durocher relegated gentlemanliness in baseball to limbo when he snarled, "Nice guys finish last." But ex-Manager Durocher must have turned over in his Beverly Hills pool last week when he read the stories coming out of Brooklyn. There, in the park where Lippy first preached his gospel, the fans gave a night for the 33-year-old gentleman who plays first base for the Dodgers—a nice guy named Gil Hodges.
By his own admission, 6-foot-1 200-pound Hodges has never had a fight in his baseball life. In fact he has gained a reputation—particularly this season—as a muscular peacemaker. "Gil's right in the middle," says Manager Walter Alston, "pullin' 'em apart." And Hodges not only holds back fighters, he picks up the fallen. He is no "cheerleader," but calls to his teammates only occasionally in a dry and steadying voice. Neither is Hodges, who comes from the coal mines of Princeton, Ind., an umpire baiter.
Of course, 28,000 fans didn't turn out just because Hodges is courteous to umpires and opponents. He also fields his position better than any other first baseman in baseball, he is currently batting over .300 in his 11th season with the Dodgers and the day before his own "night" he overcame a four-run deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals by hitting a ninth-inning grand-slam home run. This was the 12th time in his career that Hodges has so reacted with the bases loaded, which ties a National League record.
The remarkable thing about the between-games ceremonies at Ebbets Field was the fact that his admirers' abundant generosity—which included, among at least 60 items, a Dodge convertible, two weeks at Waikiki and a lifetime supply of dill pickles—stemmed from genuine affection, the sort of warmth that comes only to nice, lovable guys. Without knowing him except as he performs at his occupation, the fans recognize Hodges instantly as one of these. And so do his teammates, who know him better.
Proud witnesses to Gil's night of glory were his parents and sister, his wife Joan, his brother Bob (who had never seen him playing big league ball before) and his children, Gil Jr., Irene and Baby Cynthia.