A few weeks ago, I got up from my seat at the end of a morning lecture class and reached for my jacket. A lifelong learner in my class—probably in his late 70s or 80s—motioned for my attention. He pointed to the back of my jersey, and asked, “Do you know who Gil Hodges is?”
First, I was slightly insulted. Why in the world would I wear the jersey of a player I didn’t know? I answered, “Yes, he’s my favorite baseball player.”
So, you could imagine how upset I was when Jane Forbes Clark announced Monday that not only did Gil Hodges not get the number of votes needed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but that he received three or fewer votes. After the announcement from San Diego, most of my Twitter feed was filled with fellow Mets fans who were also disappointed.
Many feel that Gil should have been elected to the Hall of Fame 21 years ago when he received the 12 votes needed for induction. But, Ted Williams barred Roy Campanella’s vote from counting because Campanella was sick and was not able to vote in person, costing Gil his place in the Hall. Fans have been campaigning for Gil to get inducted ever since, but it seems that with today’s result, this will never happen.
There is continued debate among baseball fans over whether Gil’s accomplishments make him deserving of a place in the Hall. Many people, including Mets fans, argue that Gil’s numbers were just not good enough to be inducted, and that the Hall is for the best of the best—it isn’t the Hall of Very Good Players. Gary Cohen even expressed a similar sentiment during a September broadcast this year. However, Howie Rose has publicly supported Gil’s induction, showing that the debate is apparent even among some of the most knowledgeable Mets fans around.
But I’m not here to debate Gil’s stats or to argue one way or another. I’ve written in the past about why Gil means so much to me as a baseball fan, and I can understand why people don’t think Gil deserves to be inducted. I admit that a large part of my support for Gil’s induction is not based purely on stats. I’ve written about my grandpa, who grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and became a Mets fan, and how Gil was his favorite baseball player.
In 2007, my grandpa won a trip to spring training. Included in the contest package were two official Mets uniforms—one home, one away—with “Galchus” and the number of his choosing on the back. Before his trip, he brought over his personalized uniforms to my house, and showed my family that he chose the number 14. He asked me to guess why he chose that number. I had no idea. I didn’t know the difference between a force-out and a fly out at the time. As I’ve written, because my grandpa passed away before I started watching baseball, I view Gil Hodges in a very special way.
What I think all Mets fans can agree on—whether or not they think Gil belongs in the Hall—is that he is an important part of Mets history, at the very least.
Fans don’t always care about numbers or results as much as they do moments or stories. Look at Endy Chavez’s catch from Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS—a moment that Mets fans talk about almost always positively, rarely mentioning the actual outcome of the game.
Gil was an original Met, hitting the team’s first home run. He managed the Miracle Mets to the franchise’s first World Series title. Off the field, it’s well-known that he had an exceptional character comparable to the great Stan Musial.
The Mets have acknowledged Gil’s legacy, but in ways that I think are too subtle. Yes, there’s the Hodges gate on the right field side of Citi Field, but his image and additional photographs of him that line these walls belong to a VIP entrance that not every fan is able to see. His image is also tucked away on a field level wall in left field, and a road of the backfields of the Mets’ spring training facility is named after him. All perfectly nice gestures, but Gil deserves more.
Image of Gil Hodges on the left field side of Citi Field’s field level
In addition to his retired number 14 in the outfield, I think Mets fans would appreciate a statue of Gil somewhere in front of the ballpark or in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
The home run apple outside the ballpark is always filled with people taking photos. When the Mets’ blue and orange All-Star Game apple was parked outside the Team Store in 2013, fans at games were always taking photos in front of the apple, even though it wasn’t particularly important. Even that huge piggy bank at the top of the escalator of the rotunda in 2012 got a good deal of attention. A statue of Gil would explicitly show Citi Field’s visitors that this man is an important part of Mets history.
This statue would also help Citi Field add more personal touches in general, making it feel more like a home for Mets fans.
This summer I visited Busch Stadium, and though it is structurally very similar to Citi Field, I felt like it had more character than Citi, even though it too is a relatively new ballpark. Say what you want about the Cardinals franchise, but their display of statues outside their ballpark with plaques and player descriptions, in addition to the very large Stan Musial statue, was interesting and definitely a great point of interest.
Though Gil’s number is retired, the Mets should introduce more ways to celebrate him, whether that’s through a giveaway at a game, a theme night, or preferably a statue at the ballpark.
Gil will probably never be elected to the Hall, but Mets fans’ disappointment at today’s results shows just how much the former first baseman and Mets manager means to a large number of baseball fans. It’s up to the Mets now to continue to keep this baseball great’s legacy alive.