Mort Zachter is the author of the recent­ly pub­lished book Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life. Today he writes for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil about why he, a Jew­ish man, chose to write about a devout Catholic.

I’m often asked why I wrote a biog­ra­phy of Gil Hodges. Why not some­one Jewish?

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 me to see the project through from incep­tion to pub­li­ca­tion, this I can tell you in one word: anivut.

In the Torah it is writ­ten, Ve’ha-ish Mosheh anav me’od mi-kol ha-adam ash­er al p’nei ha-adamah, And the man Moses was a very hum­ble man, more so than any oth­er man on earth.”

The Hebrew word anav refers to anivut or humil­i­ty. For Moses, the word did not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean self-dep­re­ca­tion, but rather self-restraint. Rab­bi Chaim Volozhin the founder of one of the most influ­en­tial yeshiv­as in East­ern Europe in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, wrote that 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 anav 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 showed 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 Hodges if he ever hit three home runs in one game? He sim­ply said he was not in the record books” for that one. And he didn’t say any­thing more.

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

Mort Zachter was a strug­gling tax attor­ney /CPA and adjunct tax pro­fes­sor until he dis­cov­ered the fod­der for his first book, Dough: A Mem­oir. Based on a shock­ing fam­i­ly secret — that he was a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion mil­lion­aire — the sto­ry won him the 2006 AWP Prize for Cre­ative Non­fic­tion and was pub­lished in 2007. Zachter’s new book is focused not on his child­hood expe­ri­ences, but on a child­hood hero of his and so many oth­er Brook­lyn natives: Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life (Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Press). Zachter lives in Prince­ton, NJ. Learn more at www​.mortzachter​.com.

Relat­ed Content:

A Brook­lyn-born CPA and tax lawyer turned Push­cart Prize-nom­i­nat­ed writer, Mort Zachter is the author of Dough: A Mem­oir, win­ner of the AWP Prize for cre­ative non­fic­tion. He lives in Prince­ton, NJ.