By Glen Sparks
Gil Hodges, one of the fabled Boys of Summer, put together a career that many baseball fans argue is worthy of Cooperstown.
The first baseman belted 370 home runs over 18 seasons, mostly with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and topped the 30-homer mark six times. He drove in more than 100 runs for seven straight years (1949-55). As a manager, Hodges led the 1969 New York Mets–the Miracle Mets of ’69–to an improbable World Series championship.
This man’s man (U.S. Marine Corps, 16th Anti-Aircraft battalion, Okinawa, Bronze Star) from Princeton, Ind., enjoyed his greatest day in the big leagues on Aug. 31, 1950. He went 5-for-5, cracked four home runs and accumulated 17 total bases.
The Dodgers were at home that afternoon, at cozy Ebbets Field in Flatbush. They were playing the Boston Braves. A 23-year-old Carl Erskine, in just his third season in the big leagues, faced 29-year-old Warren Spahn, a five-year veteran with one 20-win season already on the books and 12 more to go. Erskine was a right-hander, Spahn a lefty.
Brooklyn went into the game with a 68-50 record and in second place, 6 ½ games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Boston was 68-53 and in third place, eight games out of the top spot. Each team looked to get hot over the final month of the season.
Dodgers Manager Burt Shotton placed Hodges sixth in his batting order, between right-fielder Carl Furillo and catcher Roy Campanella. This was Hodges’ fifth season in the big leagues and his third year as a regular. He came up for a two at-bat cup of coffee in 1943, fought in World War II in ’44 and ’45, spent 1946 in the minors and played in just 28 games for Brooklyn in 1947.
During his first year as a regular, in 1948, the converted catcher hit 11 homers, drove in 70 runs and batted just .249. The next year, he ripped 23 home runs, drove home 115 and hit .285. Hodges went into the game on Aug. 31 with a .293 batting average, 19 homers and 75 RBI.
It didn’t take him long to get things going against the Braves. He ripped his first home run in his first at-bat, after Furillo singled to lead off the second inning. That put the Dodgers up 2-1. Jackie Robinson led off the third inning with a base hit, and Furillo rapped another single. That ended Spahn’s tough day. Boston skipper Billy Southworth called on Normie Ray to provide some relief.
Hodges didn’t oblige. The right-handed hitter crushed a three-run home run. Brooklyn led 6-1 and tacked on four more runs that frame. The route was on.
Then, things stayed quiet until the bottom of the sixth. That’s when Hodges knocked his third home run of the game, a two-run job off Boston relief pitcher Bob Hall. By the end of the inning, it was 14-1 in favor of the Dodgers.
Hodges probably disappointed the Ebbets Field crowd of 14,226 when he came to back in the seventh inning. He merely hit a single. He did, however, come around to score after Billy Cox reached base on an error. The Dodgers added to more two runs that frame.
Boston scored twice in the eighth to make it 17-3. Hodges knocked his fourth homer of the game, and his third two-run dinger, in the bottom of the eighth, this time off Johnny Antonelli. Final score: Dodgers 19, Braves 3. Erskine improve to 2-3 on the season; Spahn dropped to 16-15.
Neither the Dodgers nor the Braves could catch up to the Phillies in 1950. Philadelphia ended the year 91-63 to capture the National League pennant and then got swept in four games by the New York Yankees in the World Series. Brooklyn came in second with an 89-65 mark. Boston fell to fourth place by season’s end, 83-71.
Hodges’ game in the late summer of that campaign remains one for the ages. He joined Yankees great Lou Gehrig as the only player since 1900 to hit four home runs in one game. (Since then, 14 other players have joined the club.) His 17 total bases rank him fourth on the all-time single-game list. (Another Dodger, Shawn Green, set the record with 19 total bases in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 23, 2002.)
Hodges smacked 32 home runs and drove in 113 that season. He went on to play in eight All-Star games and on two World Series winners (1955 and ’59). He was never better than on Aug. 31, 1950.