On Writing, Humility, and Gil Hodges

“What we leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven in the lives of others.”
– Pericles

I’m often asked why I wrote a biography of Gil Hodges. Why him, a deeply religious Catholic who died over forty years ago?

“I grew up in Brooklyn, just a couple of blocks from where Hodges lived on Bedford Avenue. He was my childhood hero.”

But that’s just a sound bite. The real answer, the one that sustained me through the many years it took to see the project through, this I can tell you in one word: anivut.

In the Old Testament, chapter twelve, verse three of the Book of Numbers it is written, “And the man Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.”

The Hebrew word for humility is anivut. For Moses, humility did not necessarily mean self-deprecation, but rather self-restraint. To be anivut, “does not mean an untruthful lack of appreciation of one’s self and one’s attainments, but rather a lack of arrogance. To be humble means to recognize your true worth, but not to impose the consequences upon your friends and neighbors. It means to appreciate your own talents, neither over-emphasizing nor underselling them, but at the same time refraining from making others aware of your virtues at all times.”

In 1964, Gil Hodges was the manager of Washington Senators. They lost 100 games that year. Their roster was largely composed of mediocre players who rarely, if ever, had a moment of glory in which their accomplishments brought them accolades. But on June 8, 1964, a journeyman outfielder named Jim King had the game of his life. Although the Senators lost that day, King hit three home runs in that one game, an unusual feat accomplished by only a few hundred players in baseball history.

After the game, the press flocked to King. Photos show him smiling broadly, enjoying his moment in the sun. After a Senators’ game, the press normally converged upon Hodges. As a former star player, he was the face of the team. But that day, Hodges was an afterthought. After the game, someone asked him if he ever hit three home runs in one game? Hodges said he was not in the record books for that one and didn’t say anything more.

Washington Post writer Bob Addie overheard Hodges’ response and decided to do some research. What Addie discovered goes to the heart of how Hodges stood out, not just in his time, but especially today when athletes don’t need much reason to promote themselves with a steady stream of texts and tweets.

In his column the next day, Addie wrote that he learned fewer than ten major league players had ever hit four home runs in a single nine-inning game. The list included some of the all-time greats, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and the man that brought Addie to the list in the first place, a man who was surely not Moses but who was anivut, Gil Hodges.