When I was a kid, the Gil Hodges cards I had from his Mets managerial days showed a guy who looked like an old man. When he died in 1972, he was two days shy of his 48th birthday. My current age is past Hodges when he untimely passed away. Yet, when viewing those 1968-72 cards of him as Mets manager, he still looks older than me. Maybe it’s vanity on my part. Or maybe his life was a lot harder than mine and just aged him both early and hard.
The featured card was his last as a player, one put out when he was 39 years old and likely the photo is a year earlier than that. He’s clearly younger than the Mets managerial cards mentioned earlier but if he came up and asked for the senior discount, you’d probably give it to him and not ask for any ID.
So, when did the aging process hit Hodges? Here’s a collage of his cards from a six-year period, ending right before the featured 1963 card.
To me, the cards of Hodges from the early-to-mid-50s seem age appropriate. Let’s start looking at his 1957 card. He would have been 33 that season, although like all cards from this era, the photo is probably a year old. To me, the hints of his aging are apparent here. But it’s the next year where things begin getting dicey.
Undoubtedly, you’ve seen the movie, “A League of Their Own,” which is about the All-American Girls Baseball League. When they’re putting the teams together, they’re looking for ladies who can both play ball and look good doing it. They come across this one girl who plays great but doesn’t score high in the looks department. They eventually take her but when they do a promo video of the players, they show her from a distance and say something like, “What a hitter!”
And that’s how the 1958 card feels to me. The picture is far enough away where it’s hard to make any real determination on how old he looks. We go back to a close-up with his 1959 card and to me it’s a coin flip. You can say he’s older than 35 here and you’d get no argument from me. But it’s not like he’s ancient.
With the 1960 card, we stumble across what’s likely the problem. Here we see him smiling for the first time. He looks younger to me here than he does in the earlier cards. Not that he looks particularly young but at least the smile puts some distance between the other cards, which look like the inspiration for the regeneration scene introducing Peter Capaldi as the Doctor in Doctor Who.
We see a return to the scowl in 1961 and his 1962 card looks like a still from some B-grade monster movie. Is there anything worse than those 1962 cards with the ugly borders and a headshot with no cap? They’re ugly in 1968 and 1969 sans cap but those 62s are just frightening.
Which brings us back to the featured 1963 card. Much like the previous year’s card, Hodges tries showing some teeth but it’s not a smile. The ballcap makes him look less sinister than the 62 but he still looks like someone who could play the heavy in any noir film.
Hodges showed teeth in his managerial cards with the Senators in 1965 and 1967 but by this point his face is too leathery for it to make enough of a difference. In three of his first four cards as Mets manager, he’s featured with his mouth shut tight, making him look 100 years old. We see teeth in the 1970 card but it looks more like a guy who needs some Metamucil than anything joyous. And his last card harkens back to 1958, where he’s photographed from a bit of a distance. You can see what probably passed for a smile at this point in his life but the circumstances of getting this card after his tragic passing just made it sad all the way around.
Maybe the answer isn’t the smile but rather a reaction to leaving Brooklyn. When the “Boys of Summer” were no longer, perhaps Hodges just took it the hardest.