Now that Harold Baines has been elected to the Hall of Fame (Harold Baines? Really?) it might be a good time for the committee voters who slipped him in Cooperstown’s back door to consider the credentials of Gil Hodges.
After serving with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II and winning the Bronze Star, Hodges became the best first baseman of his time, a cornerstone of the Brooklyn Dodgers Boys of Summer. He was on the baseball writers’ ballot for 15 years, reaching 63.4 percent in 1983, 12 percent short of the required 75 percent. Baines got as high as 6.1 percent before falling off the ballot.
Hodges’ credentials are substantial and include 370 home runs and 1,274 runs batted in. His numbers compare favorably with the 19 first basemen already in Cooperstown and are amazingly close to those of Hank Greenberg, who had 331 homers and 1,276 RBIs.
Want some more numbers?
Hodges had more career homers than Hall of Famers Bill Terry (154) and George Sisler (102) combined. Only eight of the 19 first basemen in Cooperstown had more.
Hodges’ .273 career batting average was better than Willie McCovey (.270 ) and Harmon Killebrew (.256).
Hodges was an eight-time All-Star, drove in 100 or more runs seven straight seasons and had 11 straight seasons with 20 or more home runs. He had 14 grand slam home runs, one more than Harold Baines.
From 1949-57, he averaged 32 home runs and 108 RBIs per season and the Dodgers became the National League’s dominant team with five pennants. He was just the sixth player in history to hit four home runs in a single game.
Originally a catcher, he moved to first base to make room for Roy Campanella and became the best defensive first baseman of his time. When baseball introduced the Gold Glove award, Hodges won the first three of them for the position.
Then, there is the matter of managing. In 1969, he piloted the Miracle Mets for the world championship, a stunning five-game World Series triumph over a very good Baltimore Orioles team.
A measure of the man as a manager came in the middle of that summer in a game at Shea Stadium. Left fielder Clean Jones had jogged after a single, turning it into a double. Hodges hopped out of the dugout, preparing, it seemed, to change pitchers. But he walked right past the mound, strolling instead to left field where he confronted Jones and removed him from the game.
Jones never jogged again.
There will be plenty of stories swapped among the players when the Miracle Mets gather for a 50th anniversary reunion this summer. To a man, they will tell you that it was Hodges who turned the team from a ragamuffin tail-ender into a world champion.
It’s not like Cooperstown hasn’t considered Hodges’ post BWAA eligibility before. He received nine of the 12 votes required in 2014 but then only three when his name came up again in 2017. His next chance comes in 2020.
Hodges is already in the Indiana Hall of Fame and the Mets Hall of Fame. It’s time for him to make the one in Cooperstown.