Hodges gets another chance at Hall
Dodgers slugger, Mets skipper again on Veterans ballot
LOS ANGELES -- When Gil Hodges retired as a player 43 years ago, he ranked 11th on the all-time home run list with 370. The 10 players who were ahead of Hodges then are in the Hall of Fame now.
Hodges isn't, but the focus will be on him in the upcoming election by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, which is announced Feb. 27. If any players are selected, they'll join Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn as inductees on July 29 in Cooperstown.
Hodges played 14 seasons in the Dodgers organization -- 10 in Brooklyn and four in Los Angeles. He went to the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft and hit the first home run in Mets history, but retired in 1963 to become manager of the Washington Senators for four years.
He was actually traded back to manage the Mets from 1968-1971, a tenure highlighted by the Miracle Mets' World Series championship of 1969, when the club erased a 9 1/2-game deficit over the final six weeks of the season. Hodges died of a heart attack in 1972, while playing golf two days before his 48th birthday.
In the 2005 Veterans election, Hodges tied with Ron Santo as the leading vote-getters, but still fell eight ballots short of joining Boys of Summer teammates Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Pee Wee Reese. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, and Hodges managed 65 percent.
During his 15 years on the regular Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges received the highest cumulative vote total of any player not elected, peaking at 67 percent in 1978.
Hodges had seven consecutive 100-RBI seasons, an achievement matched in the National League only by Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Mel Ott.
His home run total of 370 is only nine fewer than Hall of Famer Tony Perez, despite Hodges having 2,748 fewer at-bats. It's also more home runs than were hit by Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, Yogi Berra and Campanella.
He had six seasons of at least 30 home runs when that milestone really meant something. He's an eight-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner, and was a first baseman for seven World Series teams.
August Busch Jr.
Hodges played one game as a rookie in 1943, but was immediately drafted for two and a half years of service as a Marine in World War II. He returned to the Dodgers for the 1947 season.
One career highlight came Aug. 31, 1950, when Hodges hit home runs off Warren Spahn, Normie Roy, Bob Hall and Johnny Antonelli, driving in nine runs with 17 total bases.
"He is the kind of boy who makes his scout's job safe for 20 years," the late Dodger executive Branch Rickey is quoted as saying on Hodges' official Web site, gilhodges.com.
Rickey put Hodges, a shortstop when he was signed at age 19, behind the plate. But with the arrival of Campanella and the lack of production from top first-base prospect Preston Ward, manager Leo Durocher moved Hodges to first.
In his book "The Duke of Flatbush," Snider wrote about being in the Hall of Fame "with people who meant a great deal to me during my career. So many Brooklyn Dodgers are enshrined there -- Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Pee Wee Reese, Walt Alston, even our president, Branch Rickey. Others from our time belong there with us -- Gil Hodges and Leo Durocher."
St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial once called Hodges "perhaps the best right-handed-fielding first baseman of his time."
The son of a coal miner, Hodges was quiet and unassuming. He didn't seek headlines and never disrespected umpires or opposing players. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley, two days after Hodges' death, wrote that Hodges "lent class and dignity and respect to his team and to his profession."
As was written in the Dodgers Centennial Yearbook, Hodges was the most typical Dodger of the era:
"He was simply a great player who showed up every day, did his job and did it well, but never received the superstar recognition to which his stats entitled him because he was surrounded by so many other outstanding players -- just as the Dodgers' team greatness was obscured by the fact that the Yankees were even better."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.