By Glen Sparks
The Brooklyn Dodgers’ first baseman and former U.S. Marine Gil Hodges knocked four baseballs into the left-field bleachers at Ebbets Field on August 31, 1950. He was only the fifth major-leaguer to hit four homers in one game.
Hodges mashed his home runs off four different Boston Braves pitchers. He drove home nine runs as Brooklyn trounced Boston 19-3 in front of 14,226 fans. The muscular 26-year-old from Princeton, Indiana, came to bat six times. He added a single and equaled the major-league mark of 17 total bases. Hodges’ wife, Joan, watched and cheered from the stands.
“It was the biggest night of my life, mainly because my wife was there to see it,” Hodges said.
Boston, 68-53 going into the action, held a brief lead in this ballgame. Left fielder Sid Gordon, batting sixth in the order, knocked a solo homer in the top of the second inning off Brooklyn starter Carl Erskine.
Hodges smacked his first home run, a two-run blast, against Braves starter Warren Spahn in the second inning. The Dodgers, 68-50 when the game began, touched up Spahn for seven hits and five runs in two-plus innings of work.
Boston skipper Billy Southworth sent Spahn to the showers after Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo led off the third inning with back-to-back singles. Southworth asked Normie Ray to provide some relief. The first batter Ray faced was Hodges, who promptly launched a three-run homer. Ray lasted three more batters and only got one of them out. Southworth called to his bullpen once again.
This time, reliever left-handed Mickey Haefner, pitching in his final big-league season, ran to the mound. The scoring continued. It was 10-1 after three innings. Hodges grounded out with one out and no one on base in the fourth. Relief pitcher Bob Hall entered the game for Boston to start the fifth. The score was still 10-1.
Furillo led off the sixth by walking. Hodges followed with his third home run of the game, another two-run job. The Dodgers went ahead 12-1 and added two more runs in the frame.
Hodges singled with one out in the seventh. Brooklyn scored three times and went ahead 17-1. Now, the only question was this: Could Hodges crack a fourth home run on the day.
“I never thought I’d have another chance when I missed in the seventh,” Hodges said.
Erskine gave up two runs in the top of the eighth. Hodges came up to bat in the bottom of the inning. Johnny Antonelli was pitching for Boston. Bobby Morgan began the inning for Brooklyn by walking. Furillo followed Morgan by hitting into a force play.
With Furillo inching off first base, Hodges roped a liner into the stands. He tied a record that had previously been set by Bobby Lowe (1894, Boston Nationals), Ed Delehanty (1896, Philadelphia Nationals), Lou Gehrig (1932, New York Yankees), Chuck Klein (1936, Philadelphia Phillies), and Pat Serrey (1948, Chicago White Sox).
“Fastball, curveball, fastball, curve,” Hodges said of the pitches that he hit. He added, “I’m mighty proud to be mentioned with Gehrig. This is something that happens just once in a lifetime.”
Hodges upped his batting average to .300 on the season. He now had 23 homers and 84 RBI. Hodges ended up with 32 homers, 113 RBI, a .283 batting average, and a .367 on-base percentage.
This was Hodges’ fifth season in the big leagues, his third year as a regular. He came up to bat three times as a 19-year-old in 1943, then he went off to war. Hodges missed two seasons of baseball action, serving two years in the South Pacific. He earned a Bronze Star for heroism.
Returning to Brooklyn in 1947 after some seasoning in the minors, Hodges managed one homer in 91 at-bats. He took over full-time duties at first base in 1948, a job he held for the next decade.
Hodges played 18 seasons in the majors on a handful of pennant winners and a World Series championship team in 1955. He retired with 370 home runs and as one of the most beloved players in the game’s history. Later a manager, he led the New York Mets–the Miracle Mets of ’69–to a World Series championship.
He died of a heart attack in 1972 in West Palm Beach, Florida, just 47 years old.