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. gil_hodges_sm.jpgIn 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.

8 Responses to “The case for Hodges remains as strong as ever”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Okay Nick, you’ve convinced me! I had shamefully forgotten he gave up years of his prime to serve in the Marines and defeat the Axis powers. The man is a hero. Put him in!

  2. Gil Hodges is one of the top level members of the Hall of Very Good, but he does not merit induction into the Hall of Fame. Yes, he played on a series of great teams – but he had great teammates (Reese, Robinson, Campanella, Snider) that were more responsible for the success than Hodges. Yes, Gil missed four years in the Marines, but those were when he was 19-22 years old, hardly prinme years for a baseball player.

    I might agree that Hodges is better than Perez, but that’s not the point. Perez is certainly among the least qualified HOF’ers, and might even be a mistake. So what if Hodges is better than Doggie?

    I also agree that a .273 AVG should not keep a player out of the Hall, assuming there are other things to sufficiently bolster the candidacy. But Gil Hodges does not have those things. Not enough power, and while he may have been a great defensive 1B, he was not as good as say, Keith Hernandez, who might have a better case than Hodges.

    Gil Hodges does NOT deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Just not good enough.

    • Greg Smith says:

      I’m sorry to have to disagree, but we are focusisng too much on the numbers only, even though his numbers merit admission. Granted he is not Lou Gehrig, but who is? The idea of the Hall is to remember “the famous”, those who took the game to a higher level and who inspired young boys to play the game. Hodges was a roll model for thousands of boys, and still is. They saw his power, his integrity, and his natural leadership. If he hadn’t died so soon he would have been in the Hall because of his managerial abilities (why is Durocher or Stengle there?)- just listen to the Met players, they loved and respected him. The numbers are there, clearly, especially when you compair who else is in the Hall. But when you add in the fielding, leadership, and managerial success(ask Tom Seaver what Hodges meant!), well, it seems like a no brainer,to me.

  3. “Just to take one example of an a first baseman inferior to Hodges who got elected by the Veterans through nepotism – consider Veteran’s Committee kingpin Joe Morgan’s best buddy Tony Perez, the last man snuck through in 2000 before the rule changes.”

    Perez was not voted in by the Veteran’s Committee – he was voted in by the BBWAA writers. You can argue all you want about whether he should be in or not, but having Joe Morgan as a buddy on the VC had nothing to do with it.

    • Robert – Don’t forget that Morgan was big in briadcasting and had tremendous access and influence among the baseball writers whom he was not afraid to share his thoughts with. He was and still is a born lobbiest. Let Perez in, he’s acceptable, but he sets the floor for others. More players will be coming along in the future with the expanded leagues, huge money, and superrior training and medical techniques, so we have to let them in when they deserve it. And with this, Hodges deserves first in line.

  4. Nick Kapur says:

    Right you are Robert! Thanks for calling me on that one. Given that Perez is clearly one of the worst players in the Hall of Fame, going by the numbers, and the way Joe Morgan kept saying for years how Perez should be in, I sort of just naturally assumed he must have been elected by Joe Morgan and the Veterans.

  5. Roy Glasser says:

    To Matt – not enough power? When he retired he had the second most home runs in major league history for a right handed batter. He led the majors in the 1950s in RBIs. He wasn’t flashy, just got the job done. The Dodgers were a great team, but without Hodges steadying the defense, and coming up with the big hits (remember the 7th game of the 1955 World Series where he had the only two RBIs in the game to lead the Dodgers to victory).

    Not to mention the great job he did in taking the ’69 Mets to the World Series as a Manager.

    His only problem, he died way too soon. If he were alive today, he would be in the Hall of Fame. Out of sight, out of mind unfortunately.

  6. Greg Smith says:

    There are a lot of great players in this world and there will be a lot more. The Hall must accomodate them all. The main idea is not only to remember the greatest, but also the ones who made it the greatest game in the world. I cry for Joe Jackson, but Pete Rose paid the price and is now in a different league. The Hall is an inspiration for our youth, not a testiment to the dead, or to a gang of good old boys. If we don’t cary on the memory of our true athletic heros,those who made baseball an inspiration to right behavior to our youth, it will oly hurt our great country. Gil Hodges personifies all that is good and great about baseball, and I don’t know anyone who will dispute that.

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