Gil Hodges played first base with cool aplomb for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and was a cornerstone for teams that captured six National League pennants beginning in 1947 and running through 1956.
A man of few words, but mighty with a bat, Hodges – who passed away in April, 1972, just two days before his 48th birthday – belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the Veterans Committee, just like the Baseball Writers Association of America, have missed the boat.
A player is eligible for the Hall five years after calling it quits, and remains on the ballot 15 years if he receives the necessary minimum votes. If he doesn’t get in, then his name is turned over to an 18-man panel that meets every three years.
Last month, this group convened, and for the fourth time, left Hodges off the list. Few things in life can be certain, but one is that Hodges, an eight-time All-Star who finished with 370 homers and 1,274 runs batted in, should be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, home to the Hall.
The committee is supposed to examine ability, record, and character, contribution to the game, integrity, and sportsmanship. In every category, Hodges shines.
Six players on those great Brooklyn teams have been called to the Hall – Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, and Don Drysdale.
None other than St. Louis Cardinals’ all-time great Stan Musial said of Hodges’ defensive prowess: “He is perhaps the best right-handed fielding first baseman of his time.”
Hodges had a remarkable .992 fielding percentage at first base, and garnered three Gold Glove awards. On average, he committed just fewer than seven errors a season.
Including his four-year stay in Los Angeles, Hodges was on seven pennant-winning clubs, with the 1955 and 1959 teams taking the World Series.
Three times Hodges batted over .300 in the World Series, including .391 in 1959, .364 in 1953, and .304 in 1956.
Consistently brilliant, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hodges eclipsed 40 or more homers twice, and smacked 30 or better six times, including five straight beginning in 1950.
Driving in runs is the payoff, and Hodges, who had a .487 career slugging percentage, was a master, knocking in 100 runs seven times, with a high of 130 in 1954. Hodges drove in the most runs during the 1950’s.
Like now, the baseball writers of that time overlooked what Hodges meant to the Dodgers’ success. Only in 1950 and 1957 did Hodges finish in the top 10 for league Most Valuable Player.
Hodges played two seasons with the New York Mets, and retired after only 11 games in 1963. But his greatest accomplishment was six years away when he managed the once-hapless Mets to a Series title in 1969.
Called the “Miracle Mets,” former losers of a still-record 120 games in 1962, New York won the NL East, then swept the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series, and beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in five games. Sadly, Hodges would skipper the club only two more seasons.
“It’s nice to be liked,” Hodges once said, “but I sure hope I can prove [Leo] Durocher wrong. I never did believe that nice guys finish last.”
When will this travesty be righted?
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.