Gil Hodges and the Hall of Fame

Gil Hodges in Los Angeles.

Gil Hodges in Los Angeles.

Gil Hodges fell short of election to the Baseball Hall of Fame yet again. As Bill Madden wrote after this latest snub, Hodges “holds the dubious distinction of the most total votes of anyone not elected to the Hall of Fame, [and] got as high as 63.4 percent in 1983, his last year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot.” Requiring 12 of the 16 ballots cast by the Hall’s triennial Golden Era Committee, Hodges elicited nine votes in 2011 but three or fewer this time around (the Hall did not release actual figures for those with totals less than three). Even folks who saw him play–and, like myself, thought him a fine man and a very good player–have conceded that it is at last appropriate to remove him from consideration. But perhaps for the last time, let’s sum up the positives.

As a Brooklyn Dodger, Gil Hodges was the quietest man on a quiet team. He drove in plenty of runs and hit his share of homers and was, like Joe Adcock and Ted Kluszewski, the prototypical 1950s big slugging first baseman. Not as huge as his peers, he was nonetheless usually considered the strongest, with hands so big some said he didn’t really need a mitt. Gil was a smoothie around first base, graceful and agile, by many accounts one of the best ever. He had come to Ebbets Field as a catcher, but Leo Durocher gave that job to Roy Campanella in 1948 and asked Hodges to try first base. That move sent Jackie Robinson to his more natural position, second base, and solidified the Dodger infield for the glory years of 1949-1956.

Hodges home run, 1949.

Hodges home run, 1949.

Gil spent his last two years as a part-timer on Casey Stengel’s expansion Mets of 1962 and 1963, splitting first-base duties with “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry. Perhaps his grim experience of going 0 for 21 in the 1952 World Series prepared him for life with losing teams, for after he retired as a player he went on to manage the expansion Washington Senators for five years. Then the Mets acquired him in a “trade” ($100,000 and pitcher Bill Denehy) and in 1968 made him their manager.

Previous Met helmsmen had mastered the art of comedy: Casey Stengel (who said to Tracy Stallard of his 1963 team, “After this season they’re gonna tear this place [the Polo Grounds] down; the way you’re going the right-field stands will be gone already”); and Wes Westrum (after a close game he said, “That was a real cliff dweller”). But Hodges, not exactly a jolly sort, was brought in to win. He instilled discipline and inspired performance. His 1968 team improved by a dozen games. The next year brought two equally implausible events: man walking on the moon and the Mets winning the World Series. The Shea Stadium version of Mission Control was named Gil Hodges.

10 Comments

Gil would be in if I had the decisive vote. I’d put Gil in way before Dick Williams. Gil certainly had a better playing career and I think he was a better manager. The Red Sox impossible dream of 67 is fully matched by the Mets World Series win in 1969. If I could choose a fellow who has managed during my lifetime to manage a ball club I would put Gil along with Earl Weaver at the very top of my list list of the very best baseball managers.

What many people are not aware of is that in 1993, Gil Hodges actually received the sufficient number of votes to be elected to the HOF. One of the supporters (and voting member of the Veterans Committee) was Roy Campanella, then hospitalized and a few months from death. The Chairman of the Veterans Committee, Ted Williams, refused to allow Campanella’s vote to be counted because he was not “physically present” at Committee deliberations. This apparently violated some Committee rule. So, instead of receiving 12 of the 16 votes (75.0%), Hodges fell just short (11/15). This travesty should at long last be corrected. Gil Hodges should be enshrined in the HOF where he belongs.

This oft-repeated tale has no discernible basis in fact.

Hi Mr. Thorn, Could you elaborate on that statement a bit? This 1993 Baltimore Sun commentary is one of several contemporary pieces that cite 1) That 15/16 members were present for the vote; 2) that Campy was the only member not present; 3) That for whatever reason, he wasn’t allowed to vote by phone; 4) that two candidates fell short of election by a single vote. This article suggests that it was Leon Day and Nellie Fox, rather than Hodges, who were the two candidates who fell short by one vote. The results of the committee’s balloting were not made public at the time. Are you saying that the “oft-repeated tale” is provably false through contemporary documentation? Or that it’s an assumption , and there’s no documentary evidence to support it? I believe Monte Irvin is the only member of that year’s committee who is still living. It would be nice to confirm this, or lay it to rest, decisively.

With all due respect, I strongly disagree.

Why is it now appropriate to permanently remove Hodges name from consideration? Has this ever been done before? Who are these “folks who saw him play” that now want him removed? Could they be New York City sports writers who spent most of their careers covering the Yankees?

Ken Boyer and Luis Tiant each received three or less votes in 2011 from the Golden Era Committee. No one asked for their names to be removed. They were on the ballot again in 2014. Hodges received 3,010 cumulative votes from the BBWAA; Tiant, 918; and Boyer, 838. Is there an inverse relationship between the number of votes a candidate receives and the need for their removal?

At some point during their years on the BBWAA ballot, Larry Doby and Ron Santo both fell below the 5% floor for continuing to be listed; yet, they were subsequently elected by the veteran’s committee.

A fuller listing of Hodges’ “positives,” can be found in “Time for the Hall of Fame to Right a Wrong by Electing Gil Hodges” by Tom Verducci as it appeared in “SI” as posted on November 25, 2014.

It is often forgotten that the HOF rules for the Golden Era (1947 – 1973) state that a person is to be considered for their “overall contribution” [ie. as both a player and manager] to the game of baseball. Of all the men who ever managed a World Series winning team, Hodges hit more home runs in his playing career (370) than any of them. The next closest is Rogers Hornsby with 301. In 1968, Hodges single-handedly changed the losing mind-set of an entire franchise, the New York Mets. He had previously done the same with the Washington Senators whom in managed from 1963 – 1967, taking them from last place in 1963 to a sixth place tie with the then defending World Champion Baltimore Orioles in 1967.

And in 1969, Hodges managed the Mets to what is still considered to be one of the the most remarkable managerial feats in history, when they became the first expansion team to win a World Series.

Hodges first full major league season as a player was in 1947. He died in 1972. By any objective standard the Golden Era Committee applies, Hodges’ “overall contribution” to baseball merits his remaining on the ballot.

But I am not objective. My book, “Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life,” will be published on March 1, 2015 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Time for a chill pill, Mort (but a nice bit of self-promotion!). I am not suggesting that Hodges be eternally barred from consideration, like Joe Jackson. Just that we ought to give his candidacy a good long (informal) rest. Can’t puff these cold embers into flame, mo matter the anticipated pleasures of your book.

To Bill Hall: The scenario reported in the Baltimore Sun differs somewhat from that reported in the Chicago Tribune, but both indicated that Hodges was never close to election.”The votes for Gordon, Rizzuto and Hodges fluctuated but none of them ever had more than nine votes.” The tallies were not released by the Hall. I suggest that we cannot know what occurred, and current speculation is unfounded gossip. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-02-24/sports/9303184388_1_nestor-chylak-ed-stack-ex-umpire

Gil was a great slugger on a legendary club. Additionally, he was an exceptional fielder, and was known as a class act. He was beloved by the fans. He shifted from player to manager without ever managing in the minors or serving as a coach anywhere and immediately improved the Senators, who had been a laughingstock; their record improved each year he managed them.

Everyone knows what he did managing the Mets. Tom Seaver’s (not insubstantial) heroics aside, the Miracle of ’69 was a clear case in which the manager actually made the difference.

He’d certainly be in the Hall if he hadn’t passed away far too soon. Or if he’d managed the Yankees…

It may or may not be meaningful that for years, Vin Scully said that if he had a vote for the Hall of Fame, it would be for Gil Hodges. That begs the question of why HE doesn’t have a vote for the hall of fame, but others with less qualifications do. Oh, well.

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