The MLB winter meetings run from December 6 to December 9 this year, and one of the highlights will be the results of Hall of Fame voting from the Golden Days Era committee. One of the nominees of special interest to Met fans is the late Gil Hodges, skipper of the World Series champion 1969 Mets.
No player has ever come closer to making the Hall of Fame without actually getting in. Hodges was first eligible from 1969-1983, and he averaged over 50% of the votes. His highest total was 63.4% in his final year. He needed 75% of the votes to be elected. No player has ever amassed as many votes as Hodges and not made it in.
After 1983, it was up to the Veterans committee, and the most heart-breaking result occurred in 1993 when Hodges fell one vote short of induction. Hodges had the needed vote to put him over the top in teammate Roy Campanella. But Campanella was ill (he was soon to pass away,) and he called in his vote for Hodges via telephone. However the committee chairman (Ted Williams,) said only in-person votes would be allowed, and so Hodges lost by the tiniest of margins.
In examining the Hodges candidacy, we have to look at his play in the field and also his managerial career. According to the Hall of Fame criteria, “Those whose career entails involvements in multiple categories will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of baseball.” That means Hodges should be judged for his contributions as a player and a manager.
In addition the criteria establish that “Voting is based on the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the teams on which he played.” Hodges was known for those intangibles, he was almost never thrown out of a game for arguing. He would frequently mentor young players. When Donn Clendenon was a young player on the Pirates he sought help for his defense, and in spring training one year he was helped by Hodges, then manager of Washington. Hodges later pushed for the Mets to acquire Clendenon during the ‘69 season, and he was a big piece of that team. Hodges enlisted in the Marine Corps as a teenager and saw combat in the invasion of Okinawa where he was awarded a bronze star.
Let’s take a look at Hodges as a player first. The longtime Dodger first sacker was a durable, productive slugger who was the best fielder at his position for close to a decade. He won three Gold Gloves, all from ages 33-35. That’s because 1957 was the first year of the award, and Hodges would have won many more such awards, perhaps seven or eight additional Gold Gloves, had the award been in existence earlier. As a slugger, Hodges was a premier RBI producer. He had 100 or more RBI every year from 1949-1955, with his biggest total being 130 in 1954.
One could make the point that RBI is an overvalued statistic, and that may be true today. However when Hodges was playing that was probably the most important stat for a power hitter. Hodges was expected to drive in runs, and he did. He did it while rarely batting in the prime 3,4, and 5 spots in the order. In most of his years those spots were occupied by players like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Roy Camapanella. So Hodges had to rack up those big RBI totals while often batting sixth or even seventh in the order. He was effective at driving home those runners with productive outs, he twice led the league in sacrifice flies.
Hodges was great in the clutch when it really mattered, in the 1955 World Series against the Yanks. Hodges hit a 2 run homer in game four. That put the Dodgers ahead 4-3 in a game they eventually won to tie up the series. Then in the climactic game seven, Hodges drove in the only 2 runs of the game with a base hit and a sacrifice fly as Brooklyn won its only World Series.
Interestingly, had Hodges played for a team other than Brooklyn, he might have had better stats. Hodges murdered left-handed pitching, but he rarely faced lefties. In that 1955 season Hodges had a very good line of .289/.377/.500. Against lefty pitching that year his split totals were other-worldly at .477/.566/.864. However, he had only 44 AB against lefties, with 502 vs. righties. The reason is simple. The Dodgers were one of the most heavily right-handed teams of all time. Carl Furillo, Robinson, Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and of course Hodges were all right-handed, and opposing teams would alter rotations to keep lefties away from the Dodgers.
Let’s take a look at Hodges’ lifetime stats. His slash line was .273/.359/.487. with 370 homers and 1274 career RBI. His very best year was 1954 when he hit .304/.384/.579 with 42 homers. Excellent production for sure, but is it Hall worthy? Perhaps doing a comparison will help. Tony Perez is in the Hall, he was also a right-handed first baseman with power. His playing career began a year after Hodges retired. Perez slashed .279/.341/.463 over his career with 379 homers. Perez is slightly ahead in BA but behind in OBP and SLG. Perez had nine more homers, but he had an incredibly long career of 23 years, he played until he was 44. Oh, and Hodges has those 3 Gold Gloves, with none for Perez.
Looking at the managerial record, at first glance it is not impressive. In nine full seasons and one partial season, he won 660 and lost 753. There are mitigating circumstances. Washington was an expansion club that had lost 100 games its first year and 101 in its second season. Hodges took over part way through the 63 season through 1967, and improvement occurred every year. In 1967 the team of cast-offs had a 76-85 record to finish 6th.
The Mets then bought out his contract, and Hodges managed from 1968-1971 for the Mets until a heart attack tragically took his life. In their first six seasons as an expansion team the Mets had lost over 100 games every year but one, and had finished last every year except for one ninth place finish. That all changed under Hodges. He had a 339-309 record with the Mets, including of course the magical 1969 season.
The 69 team surged from a ninth place finish the year before to post a 100-62 record to win the division. They swept Atlanta in the postseason, and won the World Series over the powerhouse Orioles in five games.
This was a team that had a run differential of plus 91. The second place Cubs had a better differential at 109, but the Mets finished eight games ahead of them. That had to mean great management by Hodges, pulling out close wins. He platooned more than most managers to get the most out of his lineup.The team had excellent pitching yet was eighth in runs scored in the 12 team league. Almost all the players including Tom Seaver said in one way or another that Hodges was a huge part of the team winning it all.
Competition will be tough to make the Hall, and not many voters actually saw Hodges play. On the basis of his contributions to baseball, he definitely deserves a plaque, in my opinion.