It’s Hall of Fame Week here at Umpbump. We’ll be taking a closer look at the Hall and giving you our take on who does and doesn’t belong in Cooperstown. In the last of our 5-part series on who belongs, we have a look at the case for Brooklyn Dodgers legend Gil Hodges.
It is long past time that Gil Hodges was put into the Hall of Fame.
One of the core members of the mighty “Boys of Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers dynasty, the soft-spoken Hodges was the beloved first baseman and cleanup hitter of a Dodgers squad that went to 7 World Series in a 13 season stretch. More than any other player, Hodges defined that team – his first full year in 1947 marked their first trip to the World Series, and his last full season in 1959 marked their last World Series appearance. In the intervening years, Hodges had 7 seasons in a row in which he banged out at least 100 RBI, and 11 seasons in a row in which he hit at least 22 homers, including two seasons over 40. Although Hodges’ career totals in the counting stats are sometimes seen as falling short, it is important to note that he did lose 4 prime years to service in the Marines during World War II, and even so, when he retired in 1963 he held the National League record for most home runs ever by a right-handed batter.
But while Hodges’ hitting numbers alone are impressive, he was also one of the finest defensive first basemen of all time. Throughout the 1950s, Hodges was universally acknowledged as the best defensive first baseman in the National League, acclaimed for his soft hands and great range. Hodges won the first three gold glove awards ever awarded to first basemen, including winning the first award in 1957 when there was only one Gold Glove at each position for the entire Major Leagues. Presumably, he would have won many, many more if the award had existed earlier.
Hodges also deserves commemoration as a respected Major League manager, who masterminded one of the most famous and improbable World Series runs ever as the skipper of the 1969 “Miracle” Mets. All in all, Hodges managed 9 seasons in the Majors, and was at the height of his esteem and respect as a manager when health issues forced his retirement in 1972 and caused his untimely death at the age of only 47 later that year.
The fact is, no player has ever come closer to making it into the Hall of Fame with out actually getting in than Gil Hodges. Consider:
- No player has ever received more votes from the Baseball Writers Association over the course of his 15 years of eligibility without getting in than Gil Hodges and his staggering 3010 votes.
- Gil Hodges is the only player to ever receive more than 60 percent of the vote in a year without eventually getting in. Today, clearing 50 percent is considered almost a sure sign that a player will eventually get in.
- At various times during his 15 years on the ballot, Hodges finished with more votes than 21 different players who would later become Hall of Famers.
There are historical reasons for why Hodges has been kept out of the Hall of Fame. Many have cited his early death as having prevented him from having the time to become one of the game’s respected elder statesman and get all chummy with the members of the veterans committee who elected so many of their buddies in the 1990s.
Just to take one example of an a first baseman inferior to Hodges who got elected by hanging around long enough to become a respected elder statesman, consider Tony Perez, who was elected in 2000 after years of heavy lobbying by “Big Red Machine” teammates already in the Hall, such as Joe Morgan. Hodges outslugged Perez (.487 to .463) had a higher OBP (.359 to .341), made more All-Star teams (8 vs. 7), won more Gold Gloves (3 out of a possible 3 vs. zero), had just as many 100-RBI marks (7) in fewer seasons, and his 370 homers were only 9 fewer than Perez hit in 2,748 additional at-bats.
But the simplest and biggest reason Hodges has been denied the Hall was that Hall voters deeply love the statistic of batting average. Although Hodges was good at drawing walks, his batting average was “only” .273. Just to give some perspective, even by the time of Hodges death in the 1970s, the Baseball Writers had only ever elected five players who had a career batting average below .300, and all five were either catchers or shortstops. Even today, it seems likely that many of the Veterans Committee voters look first at Hodges’ batting average and get no further, simply thinking to themselves “.273? That is not a Hall of Famer.”
But that is a shame. Because Gil Hodges was the prototype of the modern first baseman which all teams look for – a premier home run hitter who also gets on base and plays flawless defense around the bag.
So to recap: 1. Gil Hodges was the cornerstone of a legendary team which went to SEVEN World Series. 2. Gil Hodges put up Hall-worthy career numbers despite losing 4 years to military service. 3. Gil Hodges was the best offensive first baseman in the National League throughout his career. 4. Gil Hodges was also the best defensive first baseman in the National League, and perhaps all of baseball, throughout his career. 5. Nobody has drawn more support from more people for Hall induction than Gil Hodges has, without actually getting in.
Let’s put this man in the Hall already.