OK. someone’s gotta help his cause. Crunch the numbers, do the math. Gil Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame.
For more than a decade — beginning in 1949 until the late 50s — Gilbert Raymond Hodges was as good as any first baseman in baseball. He was an eight-time All-Star during that span, and his batting statistics and fielding prowess ovdershadowed those of any other first baseman in that era.
Hodges appeared in one game as a third baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, then entered the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He served as an anti-aircraft gunner in the battles of Tinian and Okinawa, receiving a Bronze Star and a commendation for courage under fire for his actions.
Gil Hodges hit 370 home runs lifetime, batted .273, and drove in 100 runs seven straight years, beginning in 1949. Hodges hit at least 30 homers in a season six times, and at one time late in his career broke Ralph Kiner’s National League record for career home runs by a right-hand batter. He is one of the few batters to hit four home runs in a single game and his 361 homers remain second in Dodger history to Duke Snider’s 389.
He was the cornerstone at first base for a Dodgers team that won five pennants and a World Series in Brooklyn. And later Hodges helped lead the Dodgers to another championship in 1959 in Los Angeles, with 25 homers and 80 RBIs.
World Series Heroics
Beloved by Dodger fans, he drove in both runs of Game Seven of the 1955 World Series as the Dodgers beat the Yankees, 2-0, to won their first and only championship for Brooklyn. He batted .391 in the 1959 Series and his home run in the eighth inning of Game Four gave Los Angeles a 5-4 win en route to its first championship in Los Angeles.
Hodges was a Gold Glove first baseman in an age before they gave out Gold Gloves. Hodges was one of the best right-hand fielding first basemen in history. He led the league in fielding percentage four times and in putouts and assists three times. and ranks second behind Charlie Grimm in NL career double plays by a first baseman.
But the trump card that separates Hodges from other candidates is his managerial record, albeit brief, topped by a World Championship in 1969. After winding up his career with the original Mets in 1963, Hodges was traded to the Washington Senators for Jimmy Piersall and replaced Mickey Vernon as manager. Hodges managed the Senators through 1967 and they improved each season.
Hodges took over the reins of the Mets in 1968. One year later the Miracle Mets became perhaps the most improbable champion in baseball history, rising from ninth place the previous year to win 100 games before sweeping the Braves in the first NLCS and later topping the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series.
Hodges managed the Mets to a pair of third-place finishes in 1970 and 1971, but died of a heart attack while playing golf with other members of the Mets coaching staff just days before the 1972 season, two days shy of his 48th birthday.
Hodges came close to being elected to the Hall of Fame several times by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In his final year on the ballot in 1983, he garnered 63.4 percent of the vote, just short of the required 75 percent. Perhaps it’s time Cooperstown took another look at his credentials.
Related Hall of Fame Posts
I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren,
Setting no store by harvest, freeze the soils.
Dylan Thomas, I See The Boys Of Summer
During the 10-year period from 1947 to 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers won six National League; two other times they were denied on the final day of the season. They won Brooklyn’s lone World Series against the Yankees in 1955, after seven previous failures in the Fall Classic.
They were a legendary team, those Dodgers, with players like Jackie Robinson, the captain Pee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and many others. The first MLB team to integrate, it’s no coincidence they began their run when Robinson joined the team in 1947.
They played in one of the great old ballparks, Ebbets Field, located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn on the block bound by Bedford Avenue, Sullivan Place, McKeever Place, and Montgomery Street.
And then, suddenly, in the middle of the winter of 1958, the Dodgers fled Brooklyn for Los Angeles.
They were The Boys of Summer as chronicled by Roger Kahn in his book about 13 of those Dodgers and how their lives evolved and changed once they left the game. Kahn covered the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune as a young sportswriter in the early 1950s, and caught up with many of those Dodgers two decades later.
As Gay Talese, the American author, wrote: “Kathn’s book is marvelous….a splendid historical work. It is about youthful dreams in small American towns and big cities decades ago, and how some of these dreams were fulfilled, and about what happened to those dreamers after reality and old age arrived. It is also a book about ourselves, those of us who shared and identified with the dreams and glories of our heroes.”
For many of those Dodgers, life after Brooklyn was difficult.
Campanella was injured in a car accident on an icy road on Long Island shortly before the Dodgers moved West. He was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, never to play baseball again.
Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine fathered a son with Down syndrome. Carl Furillo worked construction at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were built.
Hodges and Robinson would both die young; Robinson also lost a son to drug addiction and a fatal car crash.
The Dodgers were such a part of Brooklyn that even now, more than 50 years later, some fans haven’t fully recovered from the team’s move to Los Angeles. When owner Walter O’Malley was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 2008, there were a smattering of boos from the crowd in Cooperstown.
Five of the “Boys of Summer” actually played for the Dodgers in Los Angeles. PeeWee Reese retired after the 1958 season, but Snider, Hodges, Carl Furillo and Clem Labine were members of the 1959 team that beat the White Sox in the World Series.
Furillo retired shortly after the 1960 season began, and Labine was traded to the Tigers that same year for Ray Semproch and cash. Hodges went back to New York to join the Mets in the 1962 expansion draft; seven years later he would manage the “Miracle Mets” to a World Championship. Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, was purchased by the Mets a year later.
And so goes the story of The Boys of Summer.
Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer’s out of reach….
……And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
Don Henley, Eagles, The Boys of Summer
Fifty years ago, two events changed the landscape of professional sports in America forever.
In 1958, the Dodgers and the Giants left New York behind, kicking off baseball’s presence on the West Coast and ushering in an era of expansion in baseball and eventually other sports. Shock waves were felt from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and from New York to San Francisco.
Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, frustrated in his attempts to get a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, decided to pick up and head West, taking owner Horace Stoneham and the Giants with him.
Fifty years later, Brooklyn has not forgotten. When O’Malley was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in July, some boos were heard throughout the Cooperstown crowd. Walter O’Malley may just be the most reviled figure in New York sports history.
Brooklyn native and the radio voice of the Dodgers Charley Steiner once observed: “Walter O’Malley was the guy in the black hat who led the wagon train out of town.”
Later that year, the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts staged a dramatic overtime game in Yankee Stadium that symbolized the rise of the NFL and the establishment of professional football as America’s leading pastime.
The Colts prevailed behind Johnny Unitas, 23-17, in what remains to this day the only overtime championship game in NFL history. A nationally televised NBC audience was captivated by the drama, capped by Alan Ameche’s winning touchdown, shown at right.
Some refer to it as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” It may not have been the greatest….but it may have been the most important game NFL history, for it signalled the rise and popularity of the sport in the national psyche.
Year of Dynasties
1958 was also a year of dynasties, past, present and future.
The Colts won the NFL championship that year, and would repeat in 1959, again knocking off the Giants.
But the real dynasty was rising in Green Bay, where Vince Lombardi, who left the Giants as an assistant coach following the 1958 playoff, led the Packers to a 7-5 record in 1959. A year later the Packers were in the NFL championship game; two years later they were NFL champions, starting a run of five NFL crowns in seven seasons, including the first two Super Bowls ever played.
In baseball, the New York Yankees, in the midst of winning 14 American League pennants and nine World Series in 16 years, rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Braves and win the World Series.
The Braves had beaten the Yankees in seven games in 1957, only to have the Yankees return the favor in 1958, to the delight of Casey Stengel, above, here with Braves manager Fred Haney following the seventh game.
Although the St. Louis Hawks won their only NBA title in 1958. defeating the Celtics in six games, Boston was on the verge of a major roll that started the following year. Beginning in 1959, the Celtics won eight straight NBA titles and 10 of 11 championships overall, a standard unapproached in professional sports history.
Finally, in 1958, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup for the third straight year, en route to an NHL record five straight titles. Les Habitants have won 23 championships; only the Yankees with 26 have more.