Gil Hodges and the Hall of Fame
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.
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.