The Brooklyn Dodgers left New York in 1957 to pursue the golden opportunities available to them in sunny southern California. I was just a little kid playing on the sidewalks of Bensonhurst in those days. I could hear the grownups complaining about the loss of their beloved team that summer. Grandpa was a big Dodger guy. His son, my uncle was a red, white and blue Yankee fan…as was my father and mother. Down the block the Dodgers held most of the hearts of the faithful in their “Dem Bums” hands. It made for interesting repartee. Who was better…Mickey or the Duke? Pee Wee or the Scooter? Joe D or Jackie? Their was also plenty of Willie Mays and Yogi Berra thrown into the various comparative conversations. One name I heard a lot was Gil Hodges.
At that tender age I didn’t know much about him except it seemed ALL Dodger fans loved the guy. In the years since, it has become obvious to me that Dodger fans, baseball fans and New Yorkers in general adored him…and for very good reason
I decided to look into his career in greater detail. During his career he won 2 World Series as a player and one as a manager.
Hodges was an 8 time all-star He anchored the infield of the Dodger team that won 6
pennants and was generally regarded as the finest first baseman of the 1950’s. Only teammate Duke Snider had more home runs or RBI’s during that period. He held the National League record for career home runs by a righthanded hitter (370) ranking 10th in major league history (at that time). He held the NL record for career grand slams from 1957 to 1974. He was also the first Dodger to hit 40 home runs accomplishing that feat in 1951. He was only the second man since 1900 to hit 4 home runs in one game on August 31, 1950. He had 17 total bases as well in that game which tied for third in major league history. He played during an era when the fences weren’t quite as friendly as they are now. There were no PED’s and the ball certainly wasn’t as lively as it is today. He ended with a .273 BA, 370 home runs and 1274 RBI’s, having had seasons over 100 RBI’s 7 times. It’s pretty obvious Gil Hodges was a serious offensive player.
Wikipedia offers the following on his defensive skills. He was also a sterling defensive player. He won the first three Gold Glove Awards and led the NL in double plays four times. He led the league in putouts, assists and fielding percentage three times each. He ranked second in NL history with 1,281 assists and 1,614 double plays when his career ended, and was among the league’s career leaders in games (6th, 1,908) and total chances (10th, 16,751) at first base.
In 1969 I was a teenager living in Brooklyn and a big MET fan. Their skipper was that same Gil Hodges that I had barely remembered as a little kid. He did the unthinkable..the unimaginable..the very amazing feat of managing a ragtag (though promising) bunch of players to the World Championship against huge odds. It was called one of the “greatest upsets in World Series history” by sports pundits and prognosticators the world over. His NY METS defeated a heavily favored Baltimore Oriole team loaded with awesome talent…Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Davey Johnson. Mets player loved him as much as the generation of Dodger fans had before them. To a man they credited Gil Hodges unique skills as a manager as the reason they won the pennant that year and the World Series.
Shortly thereafter, Gil Hodges died in April 1972 from a sudden heart attack at the age of 47 after playing golf in West Palm Beach, Florida. The out pouring of emotion and grief over his death was large and profound. Once again people showed just how much they adored this warm, friendly classy individual. Former teammates and players were crushed.
Pee Wee Reese is in the Hall of Fame. Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame. Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame. Don Sutton is in the Hall of Fame.
How in the world is this man NOT in the Hall of Fame?!??!