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Mudville: June 24, 2024 1:01 am PDT

A HOF Film For Gil

Baseball never forgets.

Players come and go. Writers come and go. Hall of Fame committees come and go.

In exactly three weeks, the Golden Days Era Committee will once again take up the case of Gil Hodges. In every way imaginable Gil Hodges deserves to be in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

No more excuses.

To keep Gil out of the Hall of Fame would continue one of the great injustices of the game, and in doing so this committee would be shouting out to the world, we don’t know anything about baseball or the Hall of Fame. It’s that’s simple really.

Do your homework.

In every standard possible, Gil Hodges is a Hall of Famer, and I will hit you later with some numbers in The Story. By one standard though, the man’s character, he stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The Hall of Fame certainly could use a little more character. I believe a great storm is coming with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who are on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for the last time this December. After that, if they are not inducted by the BBWAA, it is on to the committees.

Baseball has so much going wrong for it at this time, the gambling issues, the poor play, the never-ending games, the bullpen over usage, the loss of leadership and fundamentals. The loss of fans, the tossing aside of its true base of fans. Baseball cannot even decide the proper way to pay its players and the statistics used to measure their worth. The upcoming contract war.

“Pee Wee (Reese) said that the only reason Gil wears a glove is because the rules say that you have to wear a glove’’ – Vin Scully

It’s a Clown Show.

Time-honored numbers like batting averages, RBIs, wins, hitting in the clutch have been cast aside. Baseball doesn’t even know what it is anymore under the leadership of Rob Manfred.

Now more than ever, a player of Gil’s courage and leadership to both baseball and his country should be given a place of honor. Gil Hodges is there to support baseball if only baseball knew how to accept his support.

Gil Hodges needs to be in the Hall of Fame – and I have been writing this for decades – but still the doors are locked for Hodges while much less talented players and certainly players with much less integrity have been welcomed with open arms.

In an effort to fix a mighty wrong, there is a brilliant new documentary on Gil Hodges, two years in the making, released this week by Spirit Juice Studios (@spiritjuice on Twitter). My hope would be that every member of the committee watches this documentary to understand Gil’s elevated position in the game and with his teammates and opponents alike: It is called Soul of a Champion – The Gil Hodges Story.

It will only take 30 minutes. After hearing in great detail about the man from legends of the baseball world, including Vin Scully, the voice of baseball, they will have a much clearer vision of Hodges, who passed away on April 2, 1972 at the age of 47.

Over the last year I spoke to Gil Hodges Jr., Scully, Carl Erskine, Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool and others about Hodges.

Each of those voices can be heard in this film as well.

Learn about the man, the teammate, the friend, the leader, the manager, the World War II hero. Learn that character counts.

Again, there are no more excuses. This is now on the committee of voters. Do your homework and make sure business is taken care of regarding Gil Hodges’ honored place in the game.

To help you along I have pulled out some pertinent comments and facts from the film. Gil Hodges is a Hall of Famer, he should have been named one decades ago. On December 5, one of baseball’s biggest errors needs to be corrected. All it takes is a little homework.

Title screen from ``Soul of a Champion - The Gil Hodges Story``. (Courtesy Spirit Juice Studios)

Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball, said it best: “Gil was the heart and soul of the Brooklyn Dodgers.’’ Ten words from a baseball legend is all you need to know but there is so much more.

In the film, Gil Hodges Jr. tells this story from his father’s funeral.

Howard Cosell asked him to come outside the church. “He took me to a car, and I got in the back of the car and there was Jackie Robinson,’’ Gil Jr. explained. “He was hysterical crying. He leaned over, gave me a hug and he said, ‘Next to my son’s passing this is the worst day of my life.’’’

After a lifetime of listening to players tell stories, I am blown away with the sincerity of these stories told by those who knew Hodges best.

Reverence is the key word. This is about a man’s integrity and strength of reliance and strong Catholic beliefs. Gil Hodges’ priorities were always in place and when he had something to say there was no fanfare, just a clear understanding of him telling the truth like the famous shoe polish incident in the 1969 World Series, the first World Series championship for the Mets franchise.

Hodges was an eight-time All-Star, a three-time World Series Champion, got the biggest hits in the biggest game of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ World Series and also won the first three Gold Gloves.

Vin Scully was in the broadcast booth in 1955, and all of Gil Hodges playing career. “The story of Gil Hodges is a beautiful one,’’ Scully said in his own inimitable fashion. “He just taught me so much by example… There was something special about Gil. On the ballclub I heard players referred to him as a saint.’’

The Hall of Fame could use some saints.

This from the late Tommy Lasorda, “He loved his family, he loved his country, and he led the Dodgers.’’

I loved how Cleon Jones put it about Hodges the first baseman. “Build me the prototype of a first baseman, everybody you know would build a Gil Hodges.’’ Jones added that even now Hodges would be considered one of the five greatest first basemen to ever play the game, “so why are you not considered a Hall of Famer?’’

Still shot from ``Soul of a Champion - The Gil Hodges Story``. (Courtesy Spirit Juice Studios)

  • Hodges 370 home runs place him 12th among the 24 first baseman already in the HOF.
  • From 1948 to 1959 Hodges led all major league first baseman in home runs, runs batted in, total bases, extra-base hits and OPS.
  • Hodges received the most total HOF votes from baseball writers than any player not admitted to the Hall (3,010).
  • Hodges was considered the best defensive first baseman of his time and his 310 home runs and 1,001 RBIs in the 1950s were the second-most in the major leagues behind teammate Duke Snider, a Hall of Famer.

“I know this,’’ Ron Swoboda said with conviction, “the man should be in the Hall of Fame. Gil Hodges from his time as a player and what he meant to those Dodgers and how they succeeded as a team and what he did as a manager, if you can’t combine those things and put him where he belongs in the Hall of Fame, then shame on you.’’

Swoboda is right: Shame on you.

I also loved what Dodger team historian Mark Langill said, noting there are two major mysteries in Dodgers history: What happened to the Kirk Gibson home run ball in 1988 “and why isn’t Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame.’’

Hall of Fame numbers, leadership, managerial initiative and then of course his relationship with Jackie Robinson.

Carl Erskine told me last year that Gil, one of the strongest men in baseball, was Jackie’s protector and in the film noted: “Gil was quietly the peacemaker on the infield. The Hall of Fame should represent how much contribution did you make to the game… Historically, he had as much to do with Jackie’s success on the infield as anybody.’’

Speaking of that strength, Scully noted the strength of those two mighty hands. There is a great picture in the film of Hodges’ hands clutching two large cardboard boxes, one in each hand with this anecdote from Scully.

“Pee Wee (Reese) said that the only reason Gil wears a glove is because the rules say that you have to wear a glove,’’ Scully said. Those hands were so strong that Hodges was able to loosen the seams on the baseball to help his pitchers get a better grip on the baseball.

Gil Hodges was human Spider Tack.

Still shot from ``Soul of a Champion - The Gil Hodges Story``. (Courtesy Spirit Juice Studios)

I remember Scully telling me this story a year ago. “I know it helped Jackie to lean on the big guy all during those years,’’ Scully said. “One of the scariest moments occurred in St. Louis, at old Sportsman’s Park. There was a high foul off first base and Hodges went over to field it, and Robinson directly went over to back him up and a whiskey bottle came flying out of the upper deck and just missed Hodges and Robinson. It landed between them. I was horrified. But there was a moment where Gil reached out and kind of patted Jack as if to say: ‘We are both in this thing together.’ It was a beautiful moment. I’ll never forget it.’’

As a Marine, Hodges was in Okinawa and was awarded the Bronze Star. Tom Seaver was in the Marine Reserves and once asked Hodges what it was like on Okinawa. Hodges responded, “If you wanted to know how it was, you needed to be there.’’

Remember, this was the Greatest Generation. They kept the war to themselves.

Gil Jr. said his father had one “steadfast’’ rule. Don’t lie. “Because if you lie,’’ Junior explained. “I’ll never know when you are telling the truth.’’

A devout Catholic, Hodges never missed Sunday Mass. “There was a set how to do things: God, Family and Country,’’ Gil Jr. explained. “Those didn’t get altered.’’

One of my favorite lines in the film comes from Tommy Lasorda, who passed away last January. It was so perfect because it was so Tommy. I’ve had a number of dinners with Tommy through the years, some at the Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, or just general visits with him going back to his managerial days and, always, it wasn’t long before Tommy would be cursing a blue streak.

Speaking about the fact no one had ever heard Gil curse, Lasorda said in pure wonderment: “You never heard him curse. You almost can’t believe it, a human being can’t curse. I wish I could be like him. If you said to me would you like to be him, I’d say, yes. This guy did nothing wrong. And he’s not in the Hall of Fame.’’

Still shot of Tommy Lasorda from ``Soul of a Champion - The Gil Hodges Story``. (Courtesy Spirit Juice Studios)

Hodges was beloved in Brooklyn. “Hodges never got booed in Brooklyn,’’ Erskine noted. “The fans knew this is a sincere guy doing his best. It was amazing.’’

That alone is something special. They prayed for Gil Hodges in Brooklyn.

On October 4, 1955, Game 7 at Yankee Stadium the Dodgers won, 2-0, “After all those struggles,’’ Scully said. “Gil Hodges drove in the two runs that gave the Dodgers the World Series Championship. Remarkable. It was a shock for all of us, It was like VE Day and VJ Day all wrapped up into one. Thousands and thousands of people were on the sidewalks, and the crowd was roaring, it was incredible. I’ve seen a lot of (World Series) celebrations but I’ve never saw an explosion by the fandom as was in ’55. It was a long time a-coming.’’

That is what Gil Hodges did for Brooklyn. The same he would do for the Mets in 1969.

“Our first team meeting he told us we were a lot better than we thought we were,’’ Cleon Jones recalled. “We all looked around like, ‘What in the hell is he talking about.’’’

As a manager, he was innovative. He believed in platooning. The players didn’t like it at first, but they came to see it was a pathway to success. He would sometimes run out four outfielders. He came up with a way to keep his pitching staff healthy by going to a five-man rotation. This was Mets baseball, new stuff.

Ed Kranepool noted, “We all believed in Gil Hodges, that was the reason we all brought into that concept.’’

“We started coming to the ballpark earlier because we were feeling good about ourselves,’’ Jones said. “We were doing a lot of family things together. We became a family on the field and off the field and that’s because of Gil Hodges.’’

They became a family under Gil Hodges. That’s leadership. The 2022 Golden Days Era Committee must understand the true meaning of what Hodges meant to those Miracle Mets.

In every way Hodges was a Hall of Famer: Player, manager, human being.

“There was a sense that the guy with his hands on the wheel knew where he was going,’’ Swoboda said so perfectly. “Gil was in front of the game. He had one of the most adroit baseball minds I have ever seen. He said be the team that got you here. Be yourself.’’

We need to celebrate Gil Hodges and what he meant to baseball and America. It’s really that simple. No more excuses. Gil Hodges deserves his Hall of Fame plaque.


You can watch the film Soul of a Champion – The Gil Hodges Story by clicking here, and it can be found at www.gilhodgesfilm.com.

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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