2022 Golden Days Era Committee Candidate: Gil Hodges

The following article is part of a series concerning the 2022 Golden Days Era Committee ballot, covering managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon on December 5. For an introduction to this year’s ballot, see here, and for an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Gil Hodges

2022 Golden Days Candidate: Gil Hodges

Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Gil Hodges 43.9 33.7 38.8
Avg. HOF 1B 66.9 42.7 54.8
1,921 370 .273/.359/.487 131

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

“Hodges was the solid anchorman around whom the others revolved. He lent class and dignity and respect to his team and to his profession. As has been written — and rightly so — he had all the attributes of an Eagle Scout. This was quite a man.” — Arthur Daley, New York Times, April 4, 1972

Gil Hodges was a genuinely beloved player in his day and is probably the most popular candidate on the Golden Days ballot. Indeed, he might be the most popular candidate on any ballot. More collective emotion has been spent trying to will Hodges — a 6-foot-2, 210-pound gentle giant — into Cooperstown than any other player. The closest miss, he surpassed 60% three times on the BBWAA ballot, peaking at 63.4% in 1983, his final year of eligibility; outside of currently eligible candidates, he stands as the only one even to cross the 50% threshold without eventually getting elected via the Veterans or Era Committees, an exception of which anyone who’s followed my work for the past two decades is almost certainly aware. What’s more, biographer Danny Peary claims that in 1993, when Ted Williams led the Veterans Committee, he would not allow ailing committee member Roy Campanella to vote by phone; thus, Hodges missed by one vote. He’s never gotten any closer.

Hodges was the Dodgers’ regular first baseman from 1948 through ’61, a span during which he earned All-Star honors eight times and helped his team to six pennants (plus another in 1947, when he was a reserve) and two championships. After returning to New York in 1962 as a reserve on the dismal expansion Mets, he managed the Senators before coming back to Queens and overseeing the ’69 team’s miraculous upset of the Orioles in the World Series. Further managerial success at that level eluded him, as he died of a heart attack on April 2, 1972, two days shy of his 48th birthday.

Hodges was born on April 4, 1924 in Princeton, Indiana, a mining and farming region of the state. He grew up about 30 miles north in Petersburg. A four-sport athlete (baseball, football, basketball, and track and field), he spurned a Class-D contract from the Tigers in 1941 and enrolled at nearby St. Joseph’s College, following the same path as his older brother, Robert. He played for the college team for two years before a local sporting goods store owner and part-time scout for the Dodgers named Stanley Feezle signed him to a contract in September 1943; the scout had previously signed Carl Erskine, a key hurler for the Dodgers.

Upon signing, Hodges spent time working out with the Class-D Olean (New York) Oilers but didn’t play a game for them, though he did get called up by the Dodgers, and debuted against the Reds on October 3, 1943, the season’s final day. Entering the game in the third inning and playing third base, the 19-year-old Hodges went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, a walk and a stolen base, all against Johnny Vander Meer, the pitcher who five years earlier had thrown back-to-back no-hitters. Hodges also made two errors, the second of which led to a pair of unearned runs; it would be 14 years before he played the hot corner again.

Eleven days after his debut, Hodges joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Hawaii, first to Pearl Harbor and later Kauai. He served as a gunner in the 16th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, and in April 1945 landed on Okinawa with assault troops. He was subsequently awarded the Bronze Star, cited for “the safeguarding and stenographic preparation of highly classified documents” through “extensive periods of enemy aerial alerts and extensive bombing attacks.”

After being discharged in February 1946, Hodges went to spring training with the Dodgers and was converted to catching. He spent the season learning the position at Class-B Newport News, then made the Dodgers as a backup in 1947, the year that Jackie Robinson broke in. Hodges hit just .156/.286/.260 in 28 games while spending the full season with the club. In his lone appearance in that year’s World Series, he struck out against the Yankees’ Joe Page in Game 7, which the Dodgers lost.

Though Hodges was the Dodgers’ Opening Day catcher in 1948, manager Leo Durocher had other ideas. Three days after giving him a first baseman’s mitt during spring training, “I’m looking at the best first baseman I’d seen since Dolph Camilli,” wrote Durocher in Nice Guys Finish Last. Hodges shared the starting catcher job with Bruce Edwards until early July, when the team called up Negro National League veteran Roy Campanella. Durocher shifted Hodges to first base, and while the controversial manager would soon get traded to the rival Giants, Hodges started the team’s final 96 games of the year.

Hodges hit just .249/.311/.376 (82 OPS+) with 11 homers in 1948, but improved to .285/.360/.453 (123 OPS+) with 23 homers and 115 RBI the following year, earning All-Star honors for the first of seven consecutive seasons and helping the Dodgers to another pennant — and alas, another loss to the Yankees in the World Series. Hodges’ single off Vic Raschi did account for the only run in the Dodgers’ 1-0 Game 2 victory; he hit a three-run homer off Raschi in Game 5, albeit when the Dodgers trailed 10-3 in what proved to be the clinching game.

That 1949 season began a nine-year run of strong production, across which Hodges hit .284/.372/.515 (130 OPS+) while averaging 32 homers and 108 RBI. He ranked among the league’s top 10 in homers annually during that stretch, twice reaching the 40-homer plateau and both times finishing second in the league. In the first seven of those seasons, he topped 100 RBI as well, six times finishing in the top five, with a high of 130 (second) in 1954, the same year he peaked with 42 homers. For as impressive as those numbers read, Hodges was hitting in the bandbox of Ebbets Field during a high-offense period, and his stats showed a noticeable split:

Gil Hodges’ Home Road Splits, 1949-57

Home 163 507 .283 .380 .545 .925
Away 123 465 .285 .364 .486 .852

Hodges was hardly the only hitter of the era to benefit from such cozy surroundings; during this stretch alone, Ted Williams had a home-road OPS gap of 160 points (1.220 vs. 1.060), Ralph Kiner 120 points (1.015 vs. .895) and Hodges’ teammate Duke Snider one of 104 points (1.008 vs. .904) — and that’s just the players with four-digit OPSes at home; Campanella’s 162 points (.952 vs. .790) outdid even the Splendid Splinter. Hodges’ 74-point split merely ranked in the 72nd percentile from among 134 players with at least 1,000 PA both at home and on the road during this period. Even so, park adjustments take some of the starch out of that showing, more on which below.

The Dodgers won four more pennants during that 1949-57 span, and met the Yankees in the World Series each time. Hodges went an unfathomable 0-for-21 in 1952 — at the time, the second-worst 0-fer in series history — as the team lost in seven, but he fared better in the other three Fall Classics. He hit .292/.357/.417 in 1955 as Dem Bums finally won a World Series, coming up particularly big in Games 4 and 7; in the former, he drove in three runs with a go-ahead two-run homer off Don Larsen and an RBI single off Rip Coleman, while in the latter, he drove in both Dodger runs via an RBI single off Tommy Byrne and a sacrifice fly off Bob Grim. He also recorded the final putout, on a throw from Pee Wee Reese.

Hodges was even better in the following year’s World Series, hitting .304/.407/.522 with a homer and a team-high eight RBI in a losing cause. Seven of those ribbies, and five of his seven hits, came in the first two games as the Dodgers won both, but he closed the series on an 0-for-11 skid.

In 1958, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, where the team slumped to 71-83 — their first losing campaign since 1944 — and Hodges to .259/.330/.434 (98 OPS+). Both the 35-year-old first baseman and the transplanted team rebounded the following year, with Hodges hitting .276/.367/.513 (125 OS+) with 25 homers. He followed that with another strong showing in the World Series against the White Sox (.391/.417/.609), though he only scored and drove in two runs apiece, all of which came in the team’s Game 4 victory.

Knee problems and other injuries limited Hodges to a pair of eight-homer, 76-OPS+ seasons and a combined 210 games in 1960 and ’61. The Dodgers left him exposed in the expansion draft following the latter season, and Hodges was chosen by the Mets. He was their Opening Day first baseman, and in his second plate appearance, hit the first homer in franchise history, off the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson. Though the team went an abysmal 40-120, Hodges enjoyed a last hurrah in a part-time role, hitting .252/.331/.472 with nine homers in 142 PA. His homer off the Cardinals’ Ray Sadecki on July 6 gave him 370 for his career, surpassing Ralph Kiner to make him the NL’s all-time leader among right-handed hitters, though Willie Mays blew past his mark as though he was standing still early in 1963.

That wasn’t far from the truth, as Hodges didn’t hit another homer after taking the lead from Kiner. He played in just three games after July 14, 1962 due to surgery to remove a kidney stone, and 11 early the next year before the two-year-old Washington Senators invited him to manage. The Mets accommodated; Hodges cleared waivers, was traded to Washington in exchange for Jimmy Piersall, and retired as a player.

Hodges didn’t find great success with the Senators, who had joined the AL in 1961, though the team did improve annually from 1963, when they lost 106 games, to ’67, when they went 76-85 and finished in sixth place, their first time above eighth. Still, he went just 321-444 (.420) there. While he had one year still remaining on his Washington contract, the resignation of Wes Westrum as manager of the Mets led the two teams to work out another trade, this one for $100,000 cash and a player to be named later (pitcher Bill Denehy).

The Mets hadn’t won more than 66 games in any of their first six seasons, and had lost at least 100 in all but one, including 101 in 1967, Westrum’s final season. With youngsters Tom Seaver (the 1967 NL Rookie of the Year) and Jerry Koosman (the 1968 runner-up) anchoring the rotation, the team improved to 73-89 in Hodges’ first season, though they still ran ninth in the 10-team NL. In a foreshadowing of his early demise, Hodges suffered a mild heart attack during the team’s September 24 game and missed the season’s final four games, with coach Rube Walker filling in as skipper. A heavy smoker, Hodges had felt chest pains that disrupted his sleep for the better part of the week before the attack, but hadn’t seen a doctor until it happened.

Hodges was healthy enough to resume his role the following year, and he did quite a job. He platooned players at most positions to overcome a weak offense that produced just an 84 OPS+ and ranked ninth out of 12 teams in scoring, with left fielder Cleon Jones and center fielder Tommie Agee the only players getting enough time to qualify for the batting title. With Seaver and Koosman joined in the rotation by young Gary Gentry and backed by a bullpen featuring Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan, the team nonetheless allowed fewer runs than all but one other NL team, and rocketed to 100 wins, eight more than their Pythagorean projection. They overcame a 10-game deficit over the season’s final 49 games, going 38-11 while the NL East-leading Cubs slumped to 18-27 and winning the division by eight games. After sweeping the Braves in the first-ever NLCS, they smothered the powerhouse Orioles in a five-game World Series, allowing just five runs over the final four games. The improbable winners were dubbed the “Miracle Mets,” and more than half a century later they’re still beloved by the city of New York.

No encore could quite live up to what the 1969 Mets did. The team slipped to 83-79 and a third-place finish in 1970, then matched that exactly the following year. With the players just one day into their first collective strike in 1972, Hodges and three of his coaches hit the Palm Beach Lakes golf course on Sunday, April 2. They had just finished 27 holes and were discussing dinner plans when Hodges suffered his fatal heart attack.

By that point, Hodges was already four years into his BBWAA eligibility. In voting that had taken place before the Mets’ miracle, he had debuted with just 24.1% in 1969, indicating that the writers saw his credentials as rather light even when considering his managerial tenure to that point. After the Mets’ win, his support doubled to 48.3% on the 1970 ballot, and reached exactly 50% in ’71. After dipping by nearly 10 points in 1972, he rocketed to 57.4% in the first year of his posthumous eligibility, but was up and down thereafter, mainly in the high 50s save for his hitting 60.1% in both 1976 and ’81, and closing at 63.4% in ’83.

From there, Hodges’ case fell to the Veterans Committee, which in those days considered far more candidates than the current Era Committees and generally didn’t release official results. In 1987, Hodges’ first year of eligibility, for example, the committee considered more than 100 candidates and Hodges “didn’t even make the top 30,” according to Dave Johnson of the Evansville Courier-Press. In 1992, Hodges “appeared on a number of ballots,” and the following year, he was reported as one of the top three vote-getters along with Phil Rizzuto and Nellie Fox, with Campanella’s absence as a voter noted; that was the year Williams allegedly wouldn’t let the catcher vote for his teammate by telephone, which seems particularly hard-hearted in retrospect given that the paraplegic catcher died just a few months later. The Associated Press later reported that Negro Leagues pitcher Leon Day, who was finally elected in 1995, also finished one vote short in ’93 due to Campanella’s absence.

Via the research of Graham Womack, Hodges was considered annually from 1992 through 2001, the final year of the old format, but it’s not known whether he had any other close calls in that span. He was the top finisher in the 2003 and ’05 expanded Veterans Committee votes, with 61.7% in the former year, 61.1% in the latter, and 61% in ’07, when Ron Santo and Jim Kaat both outpolled him. He dipped to 43.8% in 2009, fourth behind Santo, Kaat, and Tony Oliva, then received 56.3% from the Golden Era Committee in 2012, tied with Minnie Miñoso for third behind Santo (who was finally elected) and Kaat.

On the 2015 Golden Era ballot, however, Hodges was in the “less than three votes” boat, while Oliva and Dick Allen fell one vote short and Kaat, Miñoso and Maury Wills each received at least 50%. So while those five candidates enter this Golden Days election with some modicum of momentum — if any can be preserved over the course of seven years between votes, a period during which both Allen and Miñoso have passed away and received considerable outpourings of support — Hodges would appear to be at a disadvantage.

Should he be elected? I’ve always held that his credentials as a player are lighter than they first appear. Yes, he was an eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner whose reputation is supported by the metrics (+47 runs); he might have won more often than that but the award wasn’t introduced until 1957, and he snarfed up three straight in his final years as a regular. Yet his Hall of Fame Monitor score of 83 is far from even the 100 that marks “a good possibility.”

For all of his participation on pennant winners, Hodges hit just .267/.349/.412 with five homers in 151 PA in the World Series. His 1952 0-fer was almost certainly a difference-maker in the Dodgers’ seven-game loss just as surely as he helped them win in ’55 and ’59.

Despite his popularity, Hodges was viewed by MVP voters as a more supplementary contributor to the Dodgers’ dynamo. He received MVP votes in nine seasons, but never finished higher than seventh, and only twice cracked the top 10. During his time as a regular, Campanella won three MVP awards, Robinson and Don Newcombe one apiece. Snider, whose career as a regular almost perfectly coincided with that of Hodges, never won either but had eight years of receiving votes, including second-, third-, and fourth-place finishes, with the two higher ones both behind Campanella. Pee Wee Reese, who received votes in 13 seasons, never finished higher than fifth but had eight top-10 finishes.

Even given his big home run and RBI totals, Hodges never led the league in either category, though he did have 10 top-10 finishes in the former (four of them in the top five) and seven in the latter. His rate stats are less impressive; even while playing in a favorable ballpark, he cracked the batting average leaderboard just once, and the on-base one just three times; six times he did so in slugging percentage, but only twice in the top five, and never higher than fourth. Only four times did he make the OPS+ leaderboard, never higher than sixth. Only three times did he do so in WAR, never higher than seventh, and only once above 5.5 WAR.

Indeed, during the heart of Hodges’ career (1949-57), he ranked 11th in WAR with a total of 40.3. Fifteen of the top 20 players in WAR during that stretch are now Hall of Famers:

Position Player WAR Leaders, 1949-57

Player Years Age PA OPS+ WAR/pos
Stan Musial+ 1949-57 28-36 6043 167 64.6
Duke Snider+ 1949-57 22-30 5825 147 57.7
Mickey Mantle+ 1951-57 19-25 4116 174 52.6
Ted Williams+ 1949-57 30-38 3936 192 52.5
Jackie Robinson+ 1949-56 30-37 4455 137 52.4
Richie Ashburn+ 1949-57 22-30 6309 111 47.3
Larry Doby+ 1949-57 25-33 5369 139 44.5
Yogi Berra+ 1949-57 24-32 5264 130 43.1
Willie Mays+ 1951-57 20-26 3299 157 40.6
Pee Wee Reese+ 1949-57 30-38 5711 98 40.4
Gil Hodges 1949-57 25-33 5827 130 40.3
Eddie Mathews+ 1952-57 20-25 3808 154 38.6
Minnie Minoso 1949-57 23-31 4601 137 37.0
Red Schoendienst+ 1949-57 26-34 5822 103 36.5
Al Dark 1949-57 27-35 5749 98 34.9
Roy Campanella+ 1949-57 27-35 4495 125 33.4
Al Rosen 1949-56 25-32 4360 138 32.5
Gil McDougald 1951-57 23-29 3952 117 32.2
Nellie Fox+ 1949-57 21-29 5728 98 32.0
Ralph Kiner+ 1949-55 26-32 4341 150 31.4

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

+ = Hall of Famer

Most of those Hall of Famers — including Hodges’ three Dodgers teammates — had significant contributions outside that particular window. Snider, for example, accumulated another 8.2 WAR, mostly from 1958 onward, where Hodges only added another 3.6 WAR.

Hodges ranks just 41st in career WAR among first baseman, below every non-Negro Leagues Hall of Famer except Frank Chance (whose career started in the 19th century), Jim Bottomley, and High Pockets Kelly, the last two dubious selections from the Veterans Committee. Also in Hodges’ neighborhood are Mark Grace, Adrián González, Don Mattingly, and the currently active Freddie Freeman, who’s doing a much more convincing job of blazing a trail towards Cooperstown. Hodges is 39th in seven-year peak WAR, just behind González, Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, and Carlos Delgado, and just ahead of Norm Cash, Freeman, and Bill White. He’s 40th in JAWS, outdoing only Bottomley and Kelly among Hall of Famers but not outsiders such as Cash, Delgado, and Mattingly, or even pending first-year BBWAA candidate Mark Teixeira.

Taking all of that into consideration, it’s fair to say that based strictly on his merits as a player, Hodges would not be a very good selection for the Hall, not that hundreds of writers haven’t made the case. Voters are allowed to consider his additional contributions, including his time lost to military service (probably minimal but not zero given where he was developmentally), and intangibles such as character. As I noted in The Cooperstown Casebook, Hodges is the rare player who drew positive mention of the so-called character clause:

Hodges “is high in all departments and his death will result in a big sentimental vote,” wrote Bill Moeller in 1972. In 1976, Dick Young echoed those words, and beseeched his fellow voters to invoke the clause: “I can think of no words more befitting of Gil Hodges, and I respectfully ask that you write his name on the ballot.” In 1979, Red Smith wrote, “if the votes are based, as the rules said, on the player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character, Gil will ride in.” In the same column, Smith also applied those words to Elston Howard and Red Schoendienst.

Hodges’ contributions as a manager are fair game here as well, but overall, he was just 660-753 (.467), with a pair of 83-win seasons his only others above .500 besides 1969. That said, he was saddled with expansion teams still finding their way, ones that showed steady improvement, and not surprisingly he showed the skills and aptitude for the job that suggested a longer career ahead.

Particularly with Dusty Baker in the news with the Astros’ World Series run, there’s been a fair bit of chatter about what a combined player-and-manager case for the Hall of Fame might look like. Towards that end, I drew up a list of the candidates outside the Hall who accumulated at least 30 WAR as players and won at least 500 games as managers. This one goes to 11:

Player-Manager Combination Hall of Fame Candidates

Manager Yrs From/To W L W-L% G>.500 Plyof WSwon PennWon WAR
Buddy Bell 9 1996-2007 519 724 .418 -205 0 0 0 66.3
Jim Fregosi 15 1978-2000 1028 1094 .484 -66 2 0 1 48.8
Roger Peckinpaugh 8 1914-1941 500 491 .505 9 0 0 0 45.2
Al Dark 13 1961-1977 994 954 .510 40 3 1 2 44.0
Gil Hodges 9 1963-1971 660 753 .467 -93 1 1 1 43.9
Fielder Jones 10 1904-1918 683 582 .540 101 1 1 1 43.3
Don Mattingly 11 2011-2021 820 857 .489 -37 4 0 0 42.4
Felipe Alou 14 1992-2006 1033 1021 .503 12 1 0 0 42.2
Dusty Baker 24 1993-2021 1987 1734 .534 253 10 0 2 37.0
Jimmy Dykes 21 1934-1961 1406 1541 .477 -135 0 0 0 34.7
Mike Hargrove 16 1991-2007 1188 1173 .503 15 5 0 2 30.4

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Looking at all of this — and you can sort it by any column — it’s tough to see where Hodges distinguishes himself. He has the second-lowest winning percentage of the group, and he’s more games below .500 than all but two managers here. He’s one of three to win a World Series, but his WAR isn’t appreciably different from those of Dark or Jones, both of whom had higher career winning percentages as managers. Dark, a three-time All-Star shortstop who was part of three pennant winners and one champion (the 1954 Giants), managed the A’s to the 1974 championship and before that the Giants to the ’62 pennant, while Jones was the center fielder-manager of the “Hitless Wonder” 1906 White Sox, who upset the Cubs in that year’s World Series. Nobody’s beating the drum for either to be elected to the Hall.

Limiting the group to pennant winners adds three other names. Fregosi was on a Hall of Fame path as a player before being traded to the Mets for Nolan Ryan and fizzling thereafter; he managed the 1993 Phillies to a pennant, but even including his partial 1978 season as manager of the Angels, only five of his 15 teams cracked .500. Hargrove piloted the powerhouse 1990s Cleveland teams, including one that was deprived of a shot at another World Series by the ’94 players’ strike, but his teams drastically underachieved in Baltimore and Seattle. Baker, a two-time All-Star who helped the Dodgers to three pennants and a championship, particularly stand outs here given his longevity and success as a skipper.

Again, even given his combination of credentials as a player and manager, it’s tough to see an objective rationale for anointing Hodges, so it really comes down to the subjective weight one wants to apply on the basis of character, the value of that improbable championship, and other intangibles that his advocates so often point to. Perhaps laying it on a bit thick, Ron Cromer, the chairman of the Committee to Elect Gil Hodges into Baseball’s Hall of Fame wrote in The Sporting News in 1995, “The history, tradition, and folklore of baseball in America has been enriched because Gil Hodges once stood at first base in a small stadium in Brooklyn. Yet his No. 14 has yet to be called to take its rightful place alongside the other ‘Boys of Summer’ who have been enshrined… In the game of sports, if ever a man deserved to be recognized for all that he stood for, for all that he was, it is Gil Hodges.”

Me, I’m the stick-in-the-mud who’s never seen those factors as enough to push him over the top, and I know for a fact that it’s caused disappointment and dismissal of my work among men of a certain age (some of them with television shows and names that would stand out on a book jacket), but I’ve stuck to my story.

I’m not inclined to change course now, not when I view Miñoso and Allen as much stronger candidates on a performance basis, and have Ken Boyer ahead of Hodges as well. But I will say this: I would be relieved if Hodges were elected, and happy for his supporters if he did gain entry. In 21 years of writing about the Hall of Fame, I’ve mentioned Hodges as an exception to the BBWAA voting trends — and reiterated the story of his Veterans Committee near-miss — about once for every hit he collected. And folks, I would be delighted to retire that particular caveat, particularly as we’re about to add some particularly gruesome, uh, characters to that list of exceptions in what’s shaping up to be a rather noxious BBWAA election cycle. So let’s see what happens.

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