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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: September 18, 2021 11:56 am PDT
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The baseball writers long ago blew it. The many Hall of Fame veterans committees blew it time after time.

Now, it is past time to correct one of the biggest injustices at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. On the day Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, the late Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons were officially inducted into the Hall of Fame as the delayed Class of 2020, it’s time to get this right.

This is a fight I have been waging for nearly 20 years and others of much more influence than AMBS are making substantial arguments as well. I once had a boss many years ago, a unique character named Jerry Lisker, right out of central casting for a newspaperman, who when it was go-time in a tabloid war he would yell across the newsroom, “To the mattresses’’ stealing the famous line from The Godfather.

It’s time to go to the mattresses for Gil Hodges.

Too many others of less-deserving accomplishments are making it into Cooperstown while baseball and time have pretty much forgotten Gil Hodges. That is sad for baseball and the Hall of Fame but here at Baseball or Bust we don’t forget. We celebrate Gil Hodges.

His numbers as a player say Gil Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame, especially when you consider the era he played. He played one game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, enlisted in the Marines, missed the next two seasons fighting in the Pacific in World War II and returned in 1946 to play in the minors.

In 1947 he was back in the majors to stay, switching from catcher to first baseman, and played through 1963.

His accomplishments as a manager of the Miracle Mets of 1969 say he should be in the Hall of Fame as well. His bravery as a Marine, fighting for America in places like Okinawa as a member of the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion also say he should be in the Hall of Fame. Sergeant Gil Hodges earned a Bronze Star for his efforts.

Hodges was revered by his Boys of Summer teammates and shortstop Pee Wee Reese once said of Gil, “If you had a son, it would be a great thing to have him grow up to be just like Gil Hodges.’’

For me, that’s a Triple Crown winner right there.

That’s a Hall of Famer, who exuded class and leadership on the baseball field much like Jeter did. He will come up again on the Golden Days ballot this December.

Don’t forget Gil Hodges this time around.

During his Hall of Fame speech on Wednesday at the Clark Center in the hills surrounding Cooperstown, Jeter said it so well about the game of baseball.

“I respected the game,’’ Jeter said. “It’s more than a game in a sense … I wanted to make all you proud, not of statistics, proud of how to play the game, proud in how I carried myself and how I respected the game and those who came before and after … It’s a game that requires sacrifice, dedication, discipline and focus. It’s a game of failure and teaches you teamwork, teaches you humility. The one common thread with all of us here on stage is that we understand there is no one individual bigger than the game. The game goes on. And it goes on because of the great fans we have. So take care of it, protect it, respect it, don’t take the time you have to play for granted.’’

Jeter also said his one goal was “to win more than everyone else … and we did.’’

Don’t just believe me, though about Gil Hodges. Listen to two heavyweights in the world of baseball media, Tom Verducci and Bob Costas.

Verducci broke it all down in a presentation for Gil at the New York State Baseball Hall of Dinner last month in Troy, NY, when Hodges was inducted, saying of Hodges, “This one is personal. You see my dad’s first cousin is Joan Lombardi of Brooklyn, New York, who married Gil Hodges.

“Gil Hodges had an amazing baseball life,’’ Verducci said. “He was a great defensive first baseman for Brooklyn. He hit 370 career home runs and went on to win the World Series as manager of the Mets. No person in baseball history hit more home runs and went on to win the World Series as a manager than Gil Hodges.

“And remember, when he got to the New York Mets, he inherited some great young arms,’’ Verducci noted. “Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, all between the ages of 21 and 25. It was Hodges who invented the five-man rotation to keep his young arms healthy. Those four wound up pitching a combined 85 seasons in Major League Baseball. Gil Hodges was an innovator.’’

Was he ever. No matter how much they try in today’s baseball world, they can’t keep pitchers healthy. They can’t keep them off the Injured List. They can’t keep them from having Tommy John surgery. Somehow, through his mastery as a manager, Gil Hodges kept his pitchers healthy.

He enlisted in the Marines on September 27, 1943, the dawn of his major league career. He did not come out of the Marines until February 3, 1946. He lost prime years of his career to the military, but he knew a job had to be done and he did it with little fanfare and absolutely no self-promotion.

He did learn a methodology in the Marines that helped him throughout his baseball life, the importance of organization over the individual. He learned that firm discipline needed to be applied equally. That served him greatly as a manager and also in his own career.

He was always there for Jackie Robinson. If there was a physical play at second base, a hard slide into Robinson, it was Hodges who would rush over from his position at first base and act as a peace-maker, pulling bodies off the pile, using his brute strength to bring calm back to the situation. In every way he was a leader of men.

When Hodges came up on the ballot for the Hall of Fame, the BBWAA nearly pushed him over the top.

“Gil Hodges received more support for the Hall of Fame,’’ Verducci explained, “than any player ever who is not in the Hall of Fame. In his years on the Baseball Writers Hall of Fame ballot, Gil Hodges received more votes than 27 eventual Hall of Famers who are in Cooperstown now and in 1993 Gil Hodges was on the Veteran’s Committee ballot. He fell one vote short. The vote that was missing belonged to his former Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella, who was hospitalized at the time. The committee disallowed Campanella’s vote because Campanella was not at the meeting in person. And Gil fell one vote short. It is time, well past time to right a wrong. We know that Gil Hodges was an American war hero, a great defensive first baseman, a key player on great Brooklyn Dodgers teams. The man who was the architect of one of the greatest upsets in sports history, with the 1969 New York Mets, and we know in our hearts that he is a Hall of Famer, now it is time to make that official and give him his rightful place in Cooperstown, New York.’’

When Hodges retired his 370 home runs were the 11th most in baseball history and was No. 2 for a right-handed batter in the National League, trailing only Willie Mays. He was an eight-time All-Star. His Brooklyn Dodgers won six pennants and one World Series in 1955. In that Game 7, 2-0 win over the Yankees, he drove in both runs.

Hodges also won a pennant and the World Series in 1959 with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the move west.

Hodges was revered by his Boys of Summer teammates and shortstop Pee Wee Reese once said of Gil, “If you had a son, it would be a great thing to have him grow up to be just like Gil Hodges.’’

You cannot get higher praise than that.

Gil Hodges (left) with Tom Seaver.

Bob Costas is known as the ultimate Mickey Mantle fan but he is a Gil Hodges fan, too.

“In a lineup in the 1950s for the Dodgers that featured Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Duke Snider, Gil Hodges was as important as any of them,’’ Costas said. “Seven straight seasons topping 100 RBIs. In 1954 just as one example, he hit .304 with 42 home runs and 130 RBIs, multiple Gold Glove winner at first base, eight time All Star, how in the world has Cooperstown not opened its doors to Gil Hodges. And we haven’t even mentioned his role in the Miracle Mets of 1969 as their manager when they came out of nowhere. A team that had never finished any higher than ninth place, wins 100 games, sweeps Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves in the LCS and then beats the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles of Earl Weaver, of Brooks and Frank Robinson in five games.

“So add that to Gil Hodges resume and scratch your head again as to why Cooperstown has yet to open its doors.’’

In 1947 and 1952, the Dodgers took the Yankees to seven games before losing the World Series and in 1953 the Yankees won in six games. So the Dodgers came that close to winning multiple World Series in Brooklyn with Gil Hodges as their first baseman. He won the first three Gold Gloves as well in 1957, 58 and 59 as the award started in 1957. He became the first National League player to hit 14 grand slams. He once hit four home runs in a single game. His lifetime slash line was .273/.359/.487. In both 1954 and ’55 he led the National League in sacrifice flies, showing his unselfish nature at the plate. He was always about team.

Eleven of the 15 times he was on the writer’s ballot Hodges received at least 50 percent of the vote, short of the 75 percent needed to be voted in by the writers. He was on the ballot from 1969-’83, long before I started voting for the Hall of Fame. His final year, 1983 he received 63.4 percent of the vote. Then would come all those misses on the veteran committees.

Hodges died in 1972 of a heart attack at the age of 47.

Consider that Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa are in the Hall for their managerial prowess. If Hodges lived, he might have led the Mets past the A’s in the 1973 World Series they lost in seven games and with two World Series championships as a manager and two as a player that could have pushed him over the top.

He never got the opportunity. Hodges led all first baseman in home runs in the 1950s, smashing 310 of his 370 home runs over the decade.

Vin Scully was there to see it all and this is what he told me a little more than a year ago.

“I’d love to see him get in, he had the numbers,’’ Scully said. “You had to see him play to realize he was a ballet dancer at first base. It was either Life or Look magazine and to illustrate Gil’s prowess with the glove, they had a series of Nijinsky, the famous dancer, in all kinds of remarkable positions and then they had pictures of Gil. It was amazing how Gil was Nijinsky-like at first base.’’

A slugger, a leader, a Gold Glove first baseman who also was a war hero. It doesn’t get much better than that. At the NY State Baseball HOF dinner, I saw different members of the Hodges family, including his daughter Irene and son Gil Jr. They are all hoping for the best with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

I think it would be a great baseball story and so well deserved. Sometimes baseball gets too caught up in the realities and the numbers of present, that the nature of the game and the past is forgotten.

I remember first speaking to Irene in 2003 after a veterans committee disappointment. Here we are nearly 20 years later. All the ’69 Mets have told me there is no question that Gil Hodges is a true Hall of Famer.

Then there is Duke Snider his old Boys of Summer teammate, a player who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. The Duke of Flatbush, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 84, put it best, saying: “Gil Hodges is a Hall of Famer; he deserves it and it’s a shame his family and friends have had to wait so long.’’

A shame, indeed. Baseball needs to fix this wrong, put Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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