Story of the Week
Gil Hodges is one of the best players in baseball history not already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The fact that he piloted the 1969 New York Mets to the World Championship is reason enough for anyone to be voted into the Hall; the 1969 Mets were not exactly the greatest championship baseball team ever. But Hodges belongs in the Hall as a player.
He was a slugging, eight-time All-Star first baseman who batted and threw right-handed. A dead pull-hitter who always looked for the inside pitch to power, Hodges was a model of consistency, collecting over 100 RBI’s for seven consecutive years, and hitting 20 or more HR’s 11 straight seasons. His lifetime 14 grand slams established the NL record at the time.
Hodges was 19 when he played third base for one game with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. He then joined the Marines in World War II. He returned in 1947 as a catcher, but with the emergence of Roy Campanella, he was moved to first base. It didn’t take him long to impress then-manager Leo Durocher; Leo later stated that Hodges was the best first baseman he had seen since Dolf Camilli.
Hodges was big and strong, and extremely graceful. The three-time Gold Glove winner played first base with great agility and finesse. His hands were so large that teammates joked that he didn’t need a glove. His quick footwork provoked the allegation that he rarely had his foot on the bag for his putouts.
On August 31, 1950, Hodges drilled four home runs and a single while driving in nine runs against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field; his 17 total bases that day is the most in modern-day baseball. He reached career highs in 1954, hitting .304 with 42 homers and 130 runs-batted-in. Hodges’ low point was Brooklyn’s 1952 World Series loss to the Yankees; Gil went a dreadful 0-21. In the following year’s World Series, he made up for it by hitting .364. He homered in each of his last four World Series, his shots winning one game in 1956 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and one game in 1959 for the L.A. Dodgers.
Ending his playing career with the Mets, Hodges hit the first homer in Mets history, on April 11, 1962 at St. Louis. Though he began 1963 with the Mets, he was sent to Washington for Jimmy Piersall, and took over as manager of the struggling Senators 40 games into the season. He managed Washington for five mediocre seasons.
Hodges rejoined the Mets after the 1967 season, this time as their manager. His 1968 club finished ninth in the NL, but the following season, Hodges took the Mets to the NL pennant, skillfully platooning players at five different positions. New York swept the Braves in the LCS, and then won the World Series from Baltimore in five games. He managed the Mets to two third-place finishes in 1970 and 1971. He died suddenly of a heart attack after a spring training golf game on April 2, 1972, just two days before his 48th. birthday. The Mets retired his number 14.
Gil Hodges’ career batting average of .273 is, no doubt, what has kept him out of the Hall of Fame. However, Hodges hit 375 homers, and drove in 1295 runs during his major league career that spanned 18 years. His brilliance as a first baseman has been duly noted. Johnny Bench finished his career with a .267 lifetime batting average, with 389 homers and 1376 runs-batted-in; Bench is in the Hall and was no better a catcher than Hodges was a first baseman.
Then there’s the one that really makes me laugh, Hall-member Bill Mazeroski with his career batting average of just .260 with 138 homers and 853 RBI’s; were it not for his home run that won the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh, he would not be in the Hall period.
Based on many players who are in the Hall-of-Fame, it is an absolute travesty of justice that Gil Hodges is not enshrined in Cooperstown.
Last Week’s Trivia
What is the major league record for runs scored by a team in the first inning of a game, what team did it, and when? The Brooklyn Dodgers set the mark with 15 against Cincinnati on May 21, 1952.
Trivia Question of the Week
In the 1974 Thanksgiving Day Cowboys-Redskins game at Texas Stadium, Roger Staubach got knocked out in the third quarter with Dallas losing, 16-3. His back-up QB brought the Cowboys back, and won the game on his TD pass with 35 seconds remaining in regulation, 24-23. Roger’s back-up had never thrown a pass in the NFL until that day. Name him. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.