“Yes!” – Albert Applauds Hodges’ Calling To Cooperstown
Count Marv Albert among those who feel baseball justice is finally served, with the late Brooklyn Dodgers' Gil Hodges Cooperstown-bound.
1957 holds some special memories for Albert, then 16, and living in the south Brooklyn neighborhood of Manhattan Beach.
Living on Kensington Street, Albert would win an "office boy" position with the hometown Dodgers in their final season playing in Brooklyn. His appearance on radio's All-American Clubhouse brought to him , at the time, the first of many "breaks" for Albert's budding hall of fame broadcasting career.
The one subway train, 25 minute ride from his stop near Coney Island to the Dodgers' offices in Brooklyn Heights, and to Ebbets Field two miles south on Sullivan Street in the borough's Flatbush section, allowed Albert to learn how a ball club operates from the ground up. There were other perks being around the team. Mingling around the press box and pretending to be the man in the next booth from where he was seated, Dodgers' longtime radio voice Vin Scully, was one.
Getting to have access to the players was another.
"I was on cloud nine," said Albert during a recent telephone conversation about being with
the club during their last summer on the east coast.
With talks of the Dodgers bolting Brooklyn for Los Angeles, if team owner Walter O'Malley could get a deal completed for a new stadium with the City of New York, part of Albert's duties required him to increase his transit time to neighboring New Jersey.
During the 1957 season, the Dodgers scheduled eight regular season games in Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium. O'Malley was making his point to Mayor Robert Wagner - stadium or "California Here We Come."
"I'd leave the ticket office, with whatever (tickets) weren't sold in Brooklyn, and take two trains to Jersey City. I carried (tickets) in a big briefcase. Going back home after the game, I'd ride the Dodgers' bus to Ebbets Field, then take the subway."
It was on one of the trips from Jersey City to Brooklyn that Albert sat next to Dodgers' first baseman Gil Hodges.
"He (Hodges) was so kind to me, and he was interested in wanting to know what I wanted to do later in life," remembers Albert,80, who officially retired from broadcasting last July after calling the Milwaukee Bucks - Atlanta Hawks NBA Eastern Conference Finals on TNT.
After graduating from Syracuse University, and followed by being the Syracuse Chiefs' radio voice during the 1962 International League season, Albert and Hodges' paths would often cross, when both were working in the "Big Apple".
"When I was on radio in New York, after my Syracuse days, I interviewed Gil. I always found him to be a gentleman. (Hodges) was well liked by his teammates, and the kind of guy nobody messed with. Gil was close to Jackie (Robinson), and someone he could always count on," recalls Albert who in 1997 was named the winner of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Curt Gowdy Media Award, selected for his outstanding broadcasting contributions to the game.
Like many baseball fans , from those who saw Hodges play in person to historians that comb through details of his fielding and hitting statistics, Albert label's the three-time Gold Glove winner's wait to be selected to the Hall as " absurd ".
"Everyone loved him," states Albert. " I can remember seeing him signing autographs before games in Brooklyn, and just being very nice to everybody. (Hodges) went hitless in all seven games of the World Series in 1952 against the Yankees; 0-for-21. Yet, no one booed him. Priests asked parishioners to pray for him."
The Dodgers' final game in Brooklyn, a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 24, 1957 before a small crowd of 6,700, saw Hodges come to bat in the eighth inning - the last Dodger to step into the batter's box in Brooklyn.
"That was a sad day," recalls Albert of the 1957 Dodgers that finished third in the National League, 11 games behind the eventual World Series winner Milwaukee Braves.
Come July, Hodges will join former longtime teammates, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, manager Walter Alston , owner Walter O'Malley, for keeps, at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown.
Having shared bus rides and crossed paths in the Dodgers' clubhouse with Hodges, Albert remembers how large the hands were of the popular first baseman. He was also penciled in as a catcher, at times.
"Gil led the league in assists three times. He was an amazing first baseman," explains Albert.
That summer of 1957 is one where the memories remain fresh for Albert, who for a career spanning nearly 60 years being the people's voice of NHL, NBA, NFL, NCAA Men's Division I basketball, boxing, and many other sports triumphs captured on radio and TV, and Gil Hodges remains front and center.
When not lugging briefcases of tickets and his own portable tape recorder in a box the size of an accordion to games, Albert had a plan to work on his practicing to one day be sitting in a chair, as Scully, and call games for a living.
"After the Dodgers' games (at Ebbets Field), I'd go into the radio booth, and pick up the commercials that Vin read, and left on the floor. This was great practice for me. I was so fortunate," Albert shares.
As a devout Dodgers fan growing up in Brooklyn, Albert received the best break for what would jettison his career to a level few have equaled, by being around a radio microphone, and being influenced by a man of the stature of Gil Hodges.
In the end, it's a safe bet that both would be proud of each's accomplishments, and especially, how they went about their game.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.