Copyright Dick Raphael, 15 October 1969

Gil Hodges and the Hall of Fame

Most people like to point to Gil Hodges’ career average of .273 when trying to explain why he has yet to be elected to the Hall of Fame. They note that he never won an MVP award, and that he never led the league in home runs. Here’s another fact: At the time of Gil Hodges’ retirement after the 1963 season, there were 21 players in Major League Baseball history who had hit 300 home runs over the course of their career. Of those 21 players, all except Gil Hodges are in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Of those 21 players, only Gil Hodges is viewed as one of, if not the best fielding first baseman in the history of the game. Of those 21 players, only Gil Hodges managed the Mets to the 1969 World Series title, guiding a team that had never before had a winning season to the most unfathomable Championship anyone has ever seen. Gil Hodges passed away prematurely in 1972, and the drum has been beating since then for him to be enshrined in the Hall. It hasn’t happened.

Now, I don’t want to turn the Hall of Fame into the Hall of Very Good. If I didn’t think Hodges was deserving, I wouldn’t be writing this piece. Ron Santo was recently elected, and I’d say Hodges is more deserving. Phil Rizzuto seems to be a stretch, yet he’s in. Bill Mazeroski had a .299 career On Base Percentage. .299! He hit 138 career homers compared to Hodges’ 370. Mazeroski is in because of his incredible defense at second base, and because of one (enormous) home run he hit to win the 1960 World Series. Mazeroski had his series winning homer, and Hodges drove in the only two runs in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series as the Dodgers won their only Championship for Brooklyn. Mazeroski was a 7 time All-Star, while Hodges was an 8 time All-Star. If the Hall of Fame rewarded Mazeroski  because of his defense alone plus one shining moment, how can they not reward Hodges when his defense at first base was as incredible as Mazeroski’s was at second base? How can they not reward Hodges after taking into account his offensive statistics to go along with his defensive prowess? How is it humanly possible to take into account those two aforementioned things, add Hodges’ Managerial legacy to the picture, yet still keep the man out? It defies logic.

It seems that Hodges has been hurt by a few factors. First, he happened to play with one of the greatest groups of players ever assembled. Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella all played with Gil during his glory years in Brooklyn, and all are (rightfully) in the Hall of Fame. Second, Gil’s passing in 1972 took him out of the public’s consciousness. His wife Joan has carried the torch for him, and the Mets have recognized him by retiring his number, but it hasn’t been enough to get him in.

As mentioned above, it’s maddening that the writers, and now the Golden Era Veterans Committee, can take into account Hodges’ offensive prowess, his defensive wizardry, and his Managerial resume, yet still keep him out of the Hall. When you add another element to the above, though, it seems criminal that Gil has yet to be elected. What element is that? It’s the way anyone who ever came into contact with the man talks about him.

I recently attended the unveiling of the Mets’ All-Time team at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. The biggest surprise, one that seemed a bit ridiculous, was the fact that Davey Johnson (supposedly because of his longevity) was chosen as the team’s All-Time Manager over Gil Hodges. However, as Hodges’ former players took to the stage one by one, the seemingly poor choice of Davey Johnson was dwarfed by the words that were then spoken about Gil Hodges. Cleon Jones was the first to speak about Hodges in a reverential tone, followed shortly thereafter by Jerry Koosman. But it was Tom Seaver whose words about Gil were the most powerful.

Seaver noted how if it wasn’t for Gil Hodges, the 1969 Mets wouldn’t have shocked the World. He spoke of a man who commanded the respect of his players, while respecting each one of them in return. He repeated over and over again, the fact that if it hadn’t been for Gil, none of them (himself and his 1969 teammates) would have been sitting there that night looking back on a Championship. Seaver’s most touching story about Hodges was one I, and I’m sure most others, had never heard before. Breaking down several times as he told the story, Seaver recalled a day when Hodges had called him into his office. Seaver thought he was in trouble. Hodges told Seaver that he had noticed that Tom would often point to his wife in the stands on the days that he pitched. Gil asked Tom if he did this often. Seaver replied that he had. From the way Seaver was telling the story, you could sense that after Hodges spoke those words, Seaver expected Hodges to say that acknowledging his wife was some type of distraction. Seaver continued the story, and described how the opposite was true.  After asking Seaver about his habit of pointing to his wife, Hodges simply pointed to a picture of himself during his playing days, pointing to his wife Joan who was in the stands – just as Seaver had been doing. It’s a great story, one that sheds light on the private side of a man who belongs in the Hall of Fame because of what he did in public. Yet, if character is indeed taken into consideration when those in charge decide who makes it into the Hall of Fame, maybe they should ask Seaver to tell them that story.

Gil Hodges was beloved in Brooklyn. There’s a bridge named after him, as well as a park and part of Bedford Avenue that have his name attached.  He remains an iconic figure (as a player, Manager, and human being) to those who grew up rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, those who grew up rooting for the Mets, and many others. My Grandfather was a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan who turned to the Mets in 1962 after the Dodgers broke his heart. A smile would always etch across his face when he spoke of Hodges. When my Grandfather passed away in 2008 at the age of 95, he was buried next to my late Grandmother at Holy Cross Cemetery in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Another man is buried not far from my Grandparents – none other than Gil Hodges. The day of my Grandfather’s funeral (as we had done in past visits to Holy Cross Cemetery and have done in times since), my Father and I made our way over to Gil’s grave. We made our way over out of respect, out of admiration, and because I’m sure knowing that we were there would have put a smile on my Grandfather’s face.

Gil Hodges won’t be there if he’s ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, nor will his former Brooklyn teammates. My Grandfather won’t be able to see it, and a large number of those who grew up in Brooklyn rooting for Gil but have since passed away won’t see it either. His wife, who is still with us, would be able to see it – to represent her late husband. In addition to Joan Hodges, many who have rallied for Gil’s inclusion (including Tom Seaver) would be able to properly honor a man who has been denied entry to the Hall of Fame for far too long. It’s time for the Golden Era Veterans Committee to wake up, to right a wrong.  Put Gil Hodges where he belongs – alongside his peers in Cooperstown.

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