By Glen Sparks
Gil Hodges was a beloved player on a beloved team.
He played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s and ‘50s. His home ballpark was the cozy, and oft-romanticized, Ebbets Field.
The Dodgers competed for the National League pennant every year in Hodges’ time. Red Barber, Connie Desmond and Vin Scully called the action. Hilda Chester (the “Queen of the Bleachers”) led the cheers.
Hodges, born in Princeton, Ind., batted right and threw right. He stood 6-feet-1 and weighed 200 pounds, a big man for that era. Hodges hit in the middle of a stacked Brooklyn line-up.
His teammates were legendary players like Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Duke Snider and Roy Campanella. And “Oisk,” Carl Erskine. They were The Boys of Summer, never to be forgotten.
What did people think about Gil Hodges? Campy said, “If you had a son, it would be a great thing to have him grow up to be just like Gil Hodges.”
Pee Wee said, “Gil Hodges is a Hall of Fame man.”
Was Hodges also a Hall of Fame player? We’ll find out Dec. 8. Hodges is one of the 10 nominees on the Golden Era committee ballot. (You can read more about the committee here.) If Hodges gets 75 percent of the vote, he will be inducted into Cooperstown.
Hodges the ballplayer
Hodges came up for a sip of coffee—not even a cup—as a 19-year-old in 1943. He went 0-2 and left for the Marine Corps. He missed the next two seasons. Pvt. Hodges served as a gunner for the 16th anti-aircraft battalion. Sgt. Hodges landed on Okinawa in April 1945. He earned a Bronze Star for bravery.
Back in the States in ‘46, Hodges spent the season with Newport News (Va.) in the Class B Piedmont League. His good work earned him a promotion to the big club in 1947. As a back-up catcher with the Dodgers, Hodges got into just 28 games and hit only .156 in 77 at-bats.
Dodger Manager Leo Durocher handed Hodges a first-baseman’s glove in spring training in 1948. Hodges never played catcher again.
The first baseman belted 40 home runs in 1951 and a career-best 42 in 1954. He drove in more than 100 runs every season from 1949 through 1955. The Brooklyn Dodgers won six National League pennants during Hodges’ time.
Hodges played on his eighth and final All-Star team in 1957, the team’s last season in Brooklyn. He hit more than 30 home runs six times as a Dodger.
Owner Walter O’Malley, moved his team from one coast to another, 3,000 miles from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The team won a championship in its second season in California. Hodges hit .391 in the 1959 Series, his best mark ever in the postseason.
Hodges, who had hit 22 home runs in 1958, belted 25 for the world champions. He left the Dodgers after the 1961 season and played two seasons for the Mets before retiring.
Hodges hit 370 home runs in an 18-year career. He drove in 1,274 runs and hit .273 but with a .359 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .487. His career OPS was .846 and his OPS+ was 120 with a high of 142 in 1952. Hodges had a career WAR of 44.9 with a high of 6.2 in 1954.
Brooklyn pitcher Clem Labine: “Not getting booed at Ebbets Field was an amazing thing. Those fans knew their baseball, and Gil was the only player I can remember whom the fans never, I mean never, booed.”
Hodges the manager
Who wouldn’t want an upstanding guy like Gil Hodges as a manager? The Washington Senators hired him as skipper for the 1963 season. The former Brooklyn star spent five seasons in the nation’s capital. His best season was his last one. The Senators went 76-85 in 1967 and finished sixth.
The New York Mets, a comical mess in their first several seasons, hired Hodges in 1968. After leading the Mets to a 73-89 record and a ninth-place finish in his inaugural campaign, Hodges pulled off a miracle in 1969. The Mets finished 100-62 and won the World Series.
A ticker-tape parade followed that most unlikely of championships. Unfortunately, the club could not repeat their incredible one-season success. The Mets went 83-79 the next two seasons.
The 1972 season began with the first ever players’ strike. On April 2, while golfing with friends in West Palm Beach, Fla., Hodges, a long-time chain smoker, suffered a heart attack. Transported to a hospital, he died 20 minutes later.
Jackie Robinson, who died a little more than six months later, said, “He was the core of the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
Hodges the Hall of Famer?
Hodges finished first among first baseman in the 1950s in home runs (310), games (1,477), at bats (5,313), runs (890), hits (1,491), runs batted in (1,001), total bases (2,733), strikeouts (882), and extra-base hits (585).
The argument against Hodges is this:
He didn’t lead the league in any important statistical categories. He finished in the top five in home runs four times and in the top five in RBI six times.
He didn’t come close to winning an MVP award. His best finished was seventh, in ’57.
He went 0-21 in the 1952 World Series. All told, Hodges hit .267 in 131 Series at-bats with five home runs.
I mentioned some of Hodges’ stats. Here is a look at some stats put up by another popular first baseman, Tony Perez. The Cuban-born slugger played in an era just after Hodges and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, in his ninth year of eligibility.
Home Runs: 379
Batting Average: .279
On-base percentage: .341
Slugging percentage: .463
Perez, like Hodges, never won an MVP. He finished third in 1970 with the Cincinnati Reds. Perez was selected to seven All-Star teams; Hodges was selected to eight.
So, Hodges and Perez put up similar numbers. Roger Kahn, the journalist who knew the Brooklyn Dodgers better than anyone, said. “No pitcher liked to be on the mound with guys on second and third and Gil Hodges was up.”
We’ll find out in a just a few days if Hodges will join teammates Jackie, Duke, Pee Wee and Campy in the Hall of Fame.