Hodges Belongs In Hall

The case for Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame is both statistical and emotional. It also points out all of the inconsistencies that go into the flawed process of choosing Hall of Famers.

Considered by many to be the finest fielding right-handed first baseman in the history of baseball, and certainly among the top five of all-time, Gil Hodges is currently the best player eligible for the Hall of Fame who is not in.  There are at least 10 players less deserving of enshrinement gracingCooperstown’s hallowed Hall.

The question is when will the veterans’ committee, made up solely of members of the Hall of Fame correct this mistake.

After his first year on the ballot (at one point writers kept deserving players off their ballots in the players first year of eligibility, reserving first year votes for only the best of the best) no player who ever finished ahead of Hodges in the balloting has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.  Of those who finished ahead of him in his initial year on the ballot, only Marty Marion, Allie Reynolds, Joe Gordon and Johnny Vandermeer were not ultimately enshrined.  Both Marion and Gordon are considered by many to be deserving players who have been slighted.  (Editor’s Note:  Since this was first published, Gordon was chosen to the Hall of Fame, in 2009).

The list of players Hodges finished ahead of in the voting, and the number of times that he did it – is impressive.

What is interesting is the comparison with former Brooklyn and (Los Angeles) teammate Duke Snider.  Coming onto the ballot one year later, it took Snider seven years to get to a level of support that Hodges had on every ballot after his first, and eight tries to pass Hodges in the balloting, finally accomplishing it in 1978.

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If this was a comparison of peers, similar to the Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady arguments that dominated talk-radio in November, Hodges would have a clear advantage, having beaten Snider the first seven times they went against each other.

In 1980, Snider was elected to the Hall of Famer in his 10th year on the ballot.  Obviously, many writers took their time determining that the Duke of Flatbush was a Hall-of-Famer.  Makes you wonder what made them change their mind.  A comparison of the two teammates shows some interesting things. Snider was a eight-time all-star, who drove in over 100 runs six times, and hit 40+ home runs four straight years.

Hodges, was also an eight time all-star, and drove in 100 runs seven straight seasons.  Hodges had three gold gloves, Snider none, but was in competition with Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn, so the comparison may be a bit unfair.

Snider seemed to burn brighter, Hodges more consistently.  So what happened? Numerous things could have hurt Hodges candidacy.  His untimely death in 1972 removed him from the public eye, and after initial spike in the voting, Hodges did not pick up much more additional support.

Additionally, few have argued how Hodges stacked up with Whitey Lockman, Joe Collins, Moose Skowron, Bill White and Orlando Cepeda at first base.  Hodges was clearly the best.  But the Reese vs Rizzuto (both in) and Willie, Mickey and The Duke (all three in) were emotional debates that continued into the seventies and beyond, keeping all in the front of voters minds.  Everyone knows Terry Cashman’s song.  Only Mays and Mantle were unquestionably better than Hodges.

The bitterness over George Steinbrenner and the Yankees heavy-handed tactics in getting Phil Rizzuto in may have also backfired against Hodges, particularly with non-NewYork based voters.  A backlash against a perception of too many Dodgers, Yankees and Giants in the Hall could have also contributed.

The Gold Glove award was not awarded until 1957, and Hodges won the first three. But his career was winding down by that point.  Who knows how many he would have won earlier in his career. Snider, with Mays and Ashburn as contemporaries, was unlikely to ever win a Gold Glove for centerfield play.

Lastly, the turmoil that was Shea Stadium from the death of Joan Payson until 1982, certainly had to hurt Hodges. The Dodgers have been criticized by many for abandoning theirBrooklynstars during that era, concentrating on those who went west.  The Mets, for whom Hodges also had his number retired after winning the 1969 World Series, were expected to carry the ball on his candidacy.  Like most other things in that era, they dropped it.

Richie Ashburn and Red Schoendienst both had tremendous support of their teams leading the push to get them through the veterans committee, which led up to their elections. The Wilpons, devotees of everythingBrooklyn, have not made this more of an issue since taking ownership of the team.

Realistically, Hodges is on the border statistically as an offensive player.  Injuries limited the end of his career, keeping him at 370 home runs, short of the 400 that was a magic number of sorts for players of his era.  Playing in a stadium that favored left-handed hitters for most of his career, his reputation as a clutch hitter was deserved.

While his post-season history has on it one of the worst post-seasons ever (an 0-21 in 1952) he bounced back to post solid numbers in 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959, raising his career post-season average to .267.

Few in baseball were ever held in as high esteem as a person as Hodges, both as a player and a manager. Brooklynfans flocked to their churches to pray for him during his slump in the 1952 Series, which inspired the title of a best selling book, Praying For Gil Hodges.

As a manager, he took over a franchise that epitomized ineptitude, and won a pennant in his second year, was over .500 three of his four years as manager, and finished with a .530 winning percentage as Mets manager overall.  He inspired such respect that Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver still refers to him as Mr. Hodges when speaking of the ’69 Mets.

The reality is, baseball needs to induct Hodges as soon as possible.  While his 370 home runs are no longer eye-popping in comparison to the numbers of Rafael Palmiero and Mark McGuire, the contrasts between those modern sluggers and Hodges could not be greater.  No suggestion of steroids, amphetamines, corked bats, or cheating of any kind where Hodges was concerned.

If Joe Morgan is truly as outraged by the modern player and the influences of performance enhancing substances, then he should join Seaver in championing Hodges inclusion.  The Hall could use a man whose numbers are untainted by suspicion, whose character is unquestioned.

Offensively, Hodges numbers are on par with Snider, Cepeda and a more modern contemporary, Tony Perez.  Defensively, Hodges is to first base what Ozzie Smith is to shortstop, Bill Mazeroski to second base, Brooks Robinson to third – all Hall of Famers, while a far superior offensive player.

So why is he missing from the Hall?