“It was a warm feeling of ‘finally,’” Garvey said via telephone. “It has been a long journey for the people who remember Gil. All of a sudden, the news popped up on my phone. I was just thrilled for the family. Gil is looking down from heaven with [Roy] Campanella and the guys, and they are getting ready for Spring Training.”
Garvey is more than a fan of Hodges. The two had a friendship that dates back to March 28, 1956, according to Garvey, when the latter made his debut as a batboy for the Dodgers.
“Gil became a role model. I watched him, watched his actions, how he treated people and what he was like as an athlete. I grew up with my idols until I was 14,” Garvey said. “I grew up with the Boys of Summer, even when they made the transition from Brooklyn to L.A. To be around Gil and to be around Jackie Robinson [in 1956, his last year in the big leagues], I was very fortunate to see them up close in uniform.”
Garvey held that job for several years as a Tampa native growing up in Florida. Garvey’s father, Joe, was a Greyhound bus driver who would take the Dodgers to any destination in the Sunshine State.
Garvey says his best moment with Hodges occurred in ‘56 in St. Petersburg, Fla. It was during batting practice before a game against the Yankees. The legendary Mickey Mantle was in the cage hitting monster home runs. Suddenly, Hodges went up to Garvey and asked if he wanted to play catch.
Garvey didn’t hesitate, but he had a tough time getting his glove off his belt. He was nervous, for sure. Garvey was able to detach the glove, and when they started playing catch, Hodges threw to Garvey as if he were a little kid.
“[Hodges] kind of tossed the ball with an arch,” Garvey remembers. “He wasn’t sure if this kid could catch or not. I caught it. I was pretty good for my age. I tossed it back to him.”
The next thing you know, Mantle hit a foul ball that hit Garvey in the chest. It shocked the young Garvey, but he was fine.
“He asked if I was looking at them [meaning the Yankees taking BP],” Garvey said. “I nodded, and he paused for second and he said, ‘Son, we are the world champions.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’”
The next time Garvey would see Hodges was on Sept. 1, 1969, when Garvey made his Major League debut with the Dodgers. They were playing against the Mets, whom Hodges was managing on their way to their first World Series title. The two men did not talk that day. Garvey just admired his idol from afar. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and struck out against left-hander Jack DiLauro. The Dodgers won the game, 10-6.
Like Hodges, Garvey became an All-Star first baseman, mostly with Los Angeles. He started his big league career as a third baseman but settled in at first base and broke out in 1974, winning the NL MVP Award. Garvey, a 10-time All-Star, currently ranks 17th in Dodgers history in wins above replacement (36.6). That’s ahead of Campanella (35.6), another Hall of Famer. Garvey also holds the NL record for consecutive games played with 1,207.
Garvey hopes that someday he will join Hodges in Cooperstown.
“It would be the ultimate honor for me, with Gil being my idol. You never know,” Garvey said.