When New York Mets fans mention the name “Hodges” you take it for granted, and rightfully so, that it is Gil Hodges whom they are referring to. And with some attention directed toward the elections for the Hall of Fame, the name of Gil Hodges is again being bandied about as fans remain hopeful that he will finally find his rightful place in Cooperstown.
But there was that other “Hodges” that spent a lot more time in a Mets uniform than Gil did – long-time catcher Ron Hodges (no relation to Gil). What made me think about Ron Hodges? Michael Conforto was the last position player remaining from the Mets 2015 World Series team. He came up in the middle of the 2015 season, when the Mets were desperate for offense, and was presented as the next great prospect to give a much-needed boost to the lineup.
Conforto was an immediate success and the pressure was taken off when the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes and the rest is history. Conforto would go on to play seven seasons for the Mets. He blossomed into a pretty good player and produced some nice numbers, but also had a couple of seasons that saw him struggle mightily, which is what we saw in 2021.
Years earlier, Ron Hodges was the lone holdover from the 1973 World Series team. Much like Conforto, he came up in the middle of that season, due to injuries to catchers Jerry Grote and Duffy Dyer. Hodges would stick around even after Grote and Dyer returned and hung on as the third-string catcher, something unheard of in today’s game. He even got an appearance (a walk in his only at bat) in the 1973 World Series.
Hodges was drafted multiple times – four times, in fact. He was initially drafted by the Baltimore Orioles (6th round), then the Kansas City Royals (1st round), the Atlanta Braves (1st round), and then finally by the Mets (2nd round) while playing collegiate ball at Appalachian State University. Conforto was drafted in the first round by the Mets out of Oregon State University.
But unlike Conforto, who became an integral part of the club during his tenure, Hodges was the exact opposite. For most of his time, Hodges was a mere back-up to a back-up, serving as the third-string catcher for Mets teams that were, well, pretty damn bad. You would think that he would at least get an opportunity to get some more playing time because the team was so bad, but for the first nine years of his career, he never got into more than 66 games, never had more than 184 total plate appearances in a season.
Hodges finally got into 80 games in his 10th season, in 1982, when he had career highs in home runs (5) and RBI (27) in 228 at bats. He was named the starting catcher in 1983 and played in a career high 110 games and hit .260. But he was again relegated to back-up duties in 1984, his final season.
Hodges may not have played much, but he played a role in two important episodes in New York Mets history.
The first was in that rookie season of 1973 in a late September game, in a play, that would be forever known in Mets lore as the “ball on the wall” play. In the top of the 13th inning, the Pirates had Richie Zisk on first base with two outs and lefty Ray Sadecki facing Dave Augustine. Augustine hit a long fly ball to left field. Cleon Jones went back to take a look, thinking it was a home run, and, instead, the ball hit off the top of the fence and bounced right back to Jones. Jones rifled the ball to cut-off man Wayne Garrett who quickly relayed it to Hodges. Hodges received the ball and blocked Zisk from ever reaching home plate. Hodges would then put his stamp on it by driving in John Milner with the winning run in the bottom of the inning for a 4-3 Mets victory.
The second was the ultimate return of the prodigal son, the Franchise, Tom Seaver, to begin the 1983 season. Seaver would request that Hodges start behind the plate for his first game back in a Mets uniform.
Hodges would spend 12 years – his entire career - in a Mets uniform. He would appear in a total of 666 games, an average of 55 games a season, serving mostly as the team’s third-string backstop and left handed pinch hitter, making 246 trips to the plate in that capacity. He would start 369 games behind the plate and would appear back there an additional 76 times as a late inning replacement. Hodges’ career average was .240 but his on base percentage was always very respectable at .342. He whiffed very few times and walked more times than he struck out.
You have to wonder how a player who garnered so much interest, who was talented enough to be drafted so high by not one, not two, not even three, but four times by four different teams, could have spent an entire 12-year career as the so-called “last man on the roster.” While Gil Hodges is revered, it is Ron Hodges that is forgotten. Gil’s number 14 is retired and on display for all to see at Citifield. Ron’s number 42 – that he wore for his entire 12-year career – is also hanging there for all to see but, alas, we all know that it is there for someone else, and not Ron Hodges.