As you know from previous columns a lot of baseball history was made 75 years ago in 1947. Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern history on opening day, and on July, 5, 1947, Larry Doby became the second black player, the first in the American League as he made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians. And Hank Greenberg played in his last major league game in 1947 ending his Hall of Fame playing career.
Following all the baseball news that year as best he could was Fiorello La Guardia. The famous former mayor of New York was suffering with cancer of the pancreas that would claim his life almost at the end of the baseball season on September 20, 1947, at age 64. La Guardia was a rabid New York Giants fan, but also rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees when they weren’t matched against the Giants. His favorite mayoral duty was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day to kick off a new season for the Giants at the Polo Grounds. He also enjoyed doing it for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He loved the crowds, the media, shmoozing with the players, the ballpark smell of beer and peanuts and posing for the cameras.
One of La Guardia’s favorite players on the Giants was Jewish center fielder Sid Gordon. Gordon was part of Jewish baseball history on Sunday, September 21, 1941, as four Jewish players were in the starting lineup of the New York Giants, the only time that many Jewish players played on the same team at the same time in the same game. Harry Feldman was the pitcher, Harry Danning the catcher, Morrie Arnovich was in left field and Gordon, a rookie, in center. The game only took one hour and 49 minutes as Feldman scattered nine singles for a 4-0 victory. Gordon and Arnovich each contributed a single to the win over the Boston Braves.
After serving in the military, Gordon returned to the Giants in 1946 and by 1947 was considered one of the best hitters in the National League. La Guardia, born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, considered himself Jewish even though he followed the Episcopalian religion of his father. When time allowed, he checked the box scores in the papers to see how the Jewish players were doing. La Guardia followed the young players on the New York teams and probably listened to the game on July 4th between the Giants and Dodgers when Gil Hodges of the Dodgers, in his first full season, doubled to help Brooklyn.
Hodges would go on to an 18-year playing career becoming one of the best power hitters and fielders in the game and should have been elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1970s. He hit 370 home runs in his career including four in one game at Ebbets Field on August 31, 1950. The six-foot-two, quiet, righthanded batter from Indiana, endeared himself to Brooklyn as he married a local girl and lived in the Midwood area. Often seen walking and shopping in Brooklyn, Hodges opened a 48-lane bowling alley that bore his name on the East side of Ralph Avenue and Avenue M in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn.
In 1963 the 39-year-old Hodges was named manager of the Washington Senators and five years later managed the Mets. The following year in 1969 the Mets surprised the baseball universe by winning the World Series. After an early April 1972 spring training game in West Palm Beach, Hodges and his coaches played 27 rounds of golf and were walking back to their hotel prior to meeting for dinner when Hodges fell face down dead of a heart attack a couple of days before his 48th birthday.
Hodges’s 95-year-old wife wasn’t able to travel to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction festivities. Their daughter Irene, spoke on behalf of the family and summed up her father perfectly and those who knew him or met him would agree. “He loved Brooklyn and became part of the community,” Irene said. ” He went to church there and would walk to the stores. There was never any pretense about him. He was an ordinary man and everyone knew him. He was respected and showed respect to everyone as well.”