By John Schilling
Baseball is one of America’s favorite pastimes, but it is past time for one of the game’s greatest players who has yet to be acknowledged with a plaque at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. This man is Gil Hodges, a Brooklyn baseball legend.
If you are a Brooklynite or just a New Yorker, you probably know “Gil Hodges” as the namesake for the Gil Hodges Memorial (Marine Parkway) Bridge, P.S. 193 Gil Hodges School, or the Gil Hodges Lanes Bowling Alley. If you are a baseball fan, however, you know that Gil Hodges was more than his name. It was his baseball career and character that would earn him these honors but not a place in Cooperstown for some reason.
Every winter, members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) vote on which retired players should be elected to the Hall of Fame. To be elected, a player must receive 75 percent of the vote, a winning margin that Hodges never enjoyed.
During a player’s time on the ballot, however, if he is not elected, he may still be elected later on through the Veterans Committee, which involves three separate 16-member voting committees headed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which is independent of the BBWAA. This committee is where the Hall of Fame chances of Gil Hodges live on, as he will reappear on the Golden Era Committee for the first time since 2014 and once again needs 75 percent of the vote in order to finally be elected.
Throughout Major League Baseball, Hodges is remembered fondly for his accomplishments on the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1950s. During this time, he hit 310 home runs and 1031 runs batted in (RBI). Both of these stats were the second-most in all of baseball to his teammate Duke Snider, who is already enshrined in Cooperstown and deservedly so.
There is also something to be said about Hodges’ defense as a first baseman. Not only did he earn three Gold Gloves for playing the position from 1957 to 1959, but these were the first three Gold Gloves ever won by a first baseman. Hodges, at the time, was therefore considered to be the best at his position. His case for Cooperstown, however, does not stop there.
During his playing career, Hodges won two World Series championships with the Dodgers with the 1955 victory happening here in Brooklyn and the other one in 1959 happening in Los Angeles after the Dodgers left New York following the 1957 season.
Hodges played an integral part in these two championships, contributing clutch hitting in Game 4 of the 1955 World Series after a decline in the regular season and a significant slump for the first three games of the World Series. Hodges put Brooklyn ahead with a two-run home run in Game 4 and contributed an RBI single later in the game to seal the Dodgers’ victory.
Then, in Game 7, Hodges was the one that put the Dodgers on the board, driving in Roy Campanella before eventually hitting a sacrifice fly later on that would allow Pee Wee Reese to score. Thanks to Hodges’ two-run contribution, the Dodgers would go on to win that game 2-0, securing their first World Series title and the only one to ever happen in Brooklyn.
The same was true for the 1959 victory in which Hodges batted .391 against the Chicago White Sox and hit a solo home run that would seal a Game 4 win for the Dodgers. Hodges had also been solid during the regular season that year with a .276 batting average (BA) that was the league’s seventh-best and a .992 fielding average, which led the National League entirely.
Hodges’ World Season magic would continue into his managerial career when he led the 1969 New York Mets to their first championship and would serve as their manager until his untimely death in 1972.
So why has Hodges been left out of Cooperstown all these years? Unfortunately, Hodges never met the offensive benchmarks that are typically associated with being a first baseman or what some would consider to be a no-doubt hall of famer. This includes having at least eight good seasons, 3000 hits, 500 home runs, and 1500 RBI give or take. It also helps to have won a Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, led the league in some sort of offensive record, and/or accumulated at least a .300 career BA, especially as a first baseman.
Over his 18-year career, Hodges was an all-star eight times, but he never won an MVP, never led the league in any offensive records, finished with just a .273 BA, and recorded only 1921 hits, 370 home runs, and 1274 RBI. It is worth noting, however, that Hodges lost two years early in his playing career due to military service, and the so-called benchmarks Hodges failed to meet are often unfairly applied or used to compare two completely incomparable players.
For instance, Hodges would not be the first Hall of Famer with less than a .300 BA, as Hall of Fame third baseman, Eddie Mathews and Brooks Robinson finished their careers with a .271 BA and .267 BA, respectively. The problem for Hodges, however, is that Mathews had 500 home runs and Robinson had won an MVP. When Hodges could have possibly won an MVP for his on-field performance, the Dodgers were generally out of contention those years, and it has worked against him.
But this is hard to stomach when the Hall of Fame is already filled with players who would otherwise be in Hodges’ predicament. Al Kaline, Billy Williams, and Eddie Murray come to mind as Hall of Famers that never won an MVP award, and Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Barry Larkin never led the league in any offensive categories.
So why is Gil Hodges being penalized? It could be a recency bias, but it is worth noting that had Hodges played shortstop, a position valued more for defense than offense by BBWAA voters, he probably would have been in the Hall of Fame by now, and I do not think it is right to penalize a player and the totality of his accomplishments solely for the position he played.
My opinion on Hodges’ candidacy is far from a hot take as Hodges earned 3010 Hall of Fame votes when he was on the ballot from 1969 until 1983, making him the player to receive the most total votes and not eventually be admitted to the Hall of Fame. Clearly, there are people who think he is deserving.
Based on everything I have mentioned, however, you could certainly say that Hodges’ case as a player is borderline, but a significant factor in Hall of Fame voting that is often overlooked is the character clause, which Hodges meets with his well-known sportsmanship, as well as his military service and devout Catholicism. Combine that with his playing career and his managerial success, and Hodges is a solid candidate.
But will this be enough? We will soon find out as the Golden Era Committee decides Hodges’ fate on Sunday, Dec. 5.