Why Isn’t Gil Hodges in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

gil-hodges

Pee Wee Reese once said Gil Hodges’ hands were so big he only wore a mitt to be fashionable.

[Feb. 19, 2017]–In the 1952 World Series, which the Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees in seven games, Gil Hodges went 0 for 21. His slump continued into the 1953 season. By May 23, he was batting an anemic .181. One Sunday during the slump a priest arose in St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn and said, “It’s too hot for a sermon. Just go home and say a prayer for Gil Hodges.”

Hodges was so beloved a player for the Dodgers that fans pretty much just did that. Clem Labine, Hodges’ Brooklyn teammate, said, “Not getting booed at Ebbets Field was an amazing thing. Those fans knew their baseball, and Gil was the only player I can remember whom the fans never, I mean never, booed.”

A minor boo to my friend, Dan Shepherd, who “gave” me Gil Hodges in a recent Facebook flurry to break up incessant political posts with portraits of baseball players. The problem being that it isn’t enough to merely praise Hodges as a slugging and fielding star for the great Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the late 1940’s and mid-1950’s. Or to remind people that he was at the managerial helm in 1969 when the New York Mets first became amazing—in a good way—and won it all.

The problem is it necessitates asking the titular question. Yes, I have obvious bias in Hodges’ favor, as a born Brooklyn Dodgers fan who, like many, became a die-hard New York Mets fan after the Bums skipped town. There’s no question in my mind that #14 should be in the Hall.

gil hodges card (2)

But I know I’m not alone in feeling that. Dozens of baseball scribes have campaigned for Hodges for years, pointing out not only his statistical accomplishments, but his exemplary character and leadership.

Tom Clavin and Danny Peary, co-authors of Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, the Miracle Mets, and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend, wrote: “His absence in Cooperstown is arguably the worst miscarriage of justice by the voters in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

On the all-time home run list Hodges’ 370 career round-trippers puts him ahead of Ralph Kiner, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize and others in the Hall. From 1949 to 1959 he averaged 30 homers and over 100 RBIs a year, and was the only player of his era to drive in over 100 runs for seven straight seasons. He was an eight-time All Star. He received three Gold Glove Awards as a first baseman and would have had more, but the award didn’t exist until he won it for its first three years!

New York Times writer Dave Anderson once said of Hodges, “I don’t know how many columns I’ve written supporting Hodges’ induction into the Hall of Fame. If you saw him every day you knew he was a great player and a Hall of Famer.”

Hodges hit his 370th (and last) home run as a Met. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Hodges hit his 370th (and last) home run as a Met. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

I did get to see Hodges play—as a Dodger in Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, and in the twilight of his playing career with the Mets, again at the Polo Grounds in the first two Met seasons of 1962 and 1963. Along with Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, he was one of my favorite Dodgers. And I was at all three World Series games at Shea Stadium in 1969 when Hodges pushed the Amazins to the title.

In my one summer of playing little league baseball—what was supposed to be a two-week visit to my cousins’ in New Jersey that stretched out over the entire summer—I played first base. I cut off the sleeves of my uniform in Ted Kluszewski style (a name my Aunt Ruth never could get her mouth around), but the taped number on my back was 14.

I was editing a magazine about Brooklyn years after Hodges died unexpectedly at age 47 from a heart attack. The publisher and I went to a luncheon one day that was part of a dedication of a Gil Hodges baseball field in Brooklyn. His widow, Joan, was there. The publisher was not, by a long shot, a baseball fan. He was introduced to Joan and said, “How is old Gil, anyway?” Not sure I’ve ever seen such a blank look on another person’s face.

hodges numberJoan Hodges is still alive at 90 and no doubt still holding out hope that Gil might make it into the Hall. This year could indeed be his chance. Hodges is one of ten finalists on the so-called Golden Era ballot that will be considered by a committee of Hall of Famers (Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton) as well as some baseball executives and writers.

Hodges will be battling it out with Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills. Results will be announced on December 8. If there’s any justice in the baseball world, we won’t have to ask the question anymore.

9 Responses to “Why Isn’t Gil Hodges in the Baseball Hall of Fame?”

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  1. Jack Lietz

    Enjoyed your article about Gil. Ashamed that he is not in Baseball’s HofF.
    Had heard from different sources (friends & articles) that the reason Gil is not in HofF is because some of the voters on the “old-timers” committee don’t want to ‘see’ an infield mostly of the BROOKLYN DODGERS in the HofF.
    Good Luck in your writing
    Jack

  2. Tom Bedell

    Probably just meant I was poky about approving it, Jack. Thanks for the comment. I agree with you, of course, and disagree with the warped logic about a mostly Brooklyn infield. If you’re good enough to be in, you should be in.

  3. Casino

    Good story & comment. I know Gil Hodges-era Dodgers Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and manager Walter Alston are all in the HOF. In the same way Jerry Kramer-era Green Bay Packers Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo, Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley and Head Coach Vince Lombardi all being elected into the Hall was thought to hurt Jerry Kramer’s chances because too many late-1950 to mid-60s Packers were already in Canton. But finally, Jerry Kramer has received his due with his recent selection to the Pro Football HOF, and congratulations are certainly in order.
    Gil Hodges may have run out of chances, but hopefully the Baseball Hall’s Golden Era Veterans Committee looks at what happened with Jerry Kramer and then gives Hodges one more look!

  4. Tom Bedell

    Well, we could certainly hope! Although I don’t know how often Baseball looks over its shoulder at Football. I thought there was supposed to be a Vet Committee announcement in December but if so it passed me by.

  5. Richard Fandel

    As long as Gil Hodges is not a member of Baseballs’ Hall of Fame, it will be referred to as the “Hall of Shame.” Gil excelled as a player, manager and man. He was the heart and soul of the fifties Brooklyn Dodgers and the greatest Manager in New York Mets history. The treatment of Gil by baseball leaves a bad taste in the mouth of every true major league baseball fan.

  6. Doug

    I was born and raised a very hard core Dodger fan.
    I would have never believed I would be rooting for the Brewers in the
    play-offs, but I am.
    The hof voting is an issue with Me. But a much bigger issue is the fact that
    Mr. Hodges own team is not showing any respect for Him.
    The Mets do.
    It makes Me sad to see Mr. Hodges number 14 not retired. Doing so could
    help the chances of His election.
    They disrespect Mr. Hodges, they disrespect Me and I disrespect them.

  7. Tom Bedell

    It is a little hard to believe that the Dodgers haven’t retired Gil’s number. But, as they’re now in the Series, I’ll be pulling for them even though I’m in Boston territory. Always pull for the National League, where they still play real baseball and make the pitchers bat.

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