Monday, December 5, 2011

Gil Hodges' Brooklyn Dodger teammates make a pitch for his Hall of Fame honors

The Golden Era Committee meets this weekend in Dallas at the winter baseball meetings to decide the worthiness of ten veterans and executives for Hall of Fame enshrinement. One of those ten candidates is beloved Brooklyn Dodger first baseman and manager of the 1969 New York Mets World Series championship team, Gil Hodges.

During the 15 years he was eligible for the BBWAA vote, Hodges finished as high as third in the voting on three occasions, while the next nine finishing below him (1976, 1977) eventually made the Hall of Fame. Later, various incarnations of the Veterans Committee failed to elect Hodges, while comparable players such as Orlando Cepeda (VC) and Tony Perez (BBWAA) received the call in back-to-back years.

Gil Hodges / Bowman
At the time of his retirement, Hodges’ 370 home runs were the most in the National League by a right-handed hitter. He cemented the clean-up spot in Brooklyn’s lineup, guiding them to their only World Series in 1955. At first base, his glove work was outstanding, winning the Gold Glove during for three straight years after its inception in 1957.

To the small crop of Hodges’ remaining living Brooklyn teammates, his absence from the Hall of Fame remains a mystery. Ed Roebuck, who spent six seasons with Hodges in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, as well as another two playing for him in Washington, is perplexed by his absence.

“It’s unbelievable that Gil Hodges isn’t in," Roebuck said. "Even as a manager, how would you figure the 1969 Mets to beat Baltimore? That in itself should be admission to the Hall of Fame.”

Joe Pignatano, Hodges’ long-time coach with the Washington Senators and the New York Mets, also played five seasons with him in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and New York. Pignatano sees this year’s vote as a mere formality for something that should have been done a long time ago.

“It’s absurd," Pignatano said. "This is something that is long overdue. There isn’t anybody I know that doesn’t speak highly of him.”

Hodges’ tremendous character allowed him to positively impact everyone on the team, from the established veterans, to the newcomers on the block. One such newbie was pitcher Glenn Mickens. In 1953, Mickens was a rookie making the jump to Brooklyn from AA Fort Worth. It was Hodges that welcomed him to the fold.

“[He] made me feel like I belonged there … he was a complete gentleman in every respect,” Mickens said. “I never heard a negative word spoken about Gil Hodges and I don't think that he had an enemy in the world - except maybe those opposing pitchers who couldn't get him out, and theirs wasn't negativity, but actually respect for one of the best to ever play the game.”

Catcher Tim Thompson was another rookie who was a recipient of Hodges’ benevolence. Thompson made the club out of spring training in 1954 and needed a place to stay in Brooklyn. Hodges quickly came to the rescue.

“He was the most human being I ever been around in my life," Thompson said. "When I went to Brooklyn, he said, ‘I have a house for you to rent right beside me so you have somewhere to live.’ He used to pick me up and take me to the ballpark. He was a very good friend of mine.”

On the field, Hodges had a humble approach that resonated with his teammates. They saw him give the same respect to his opponents that he did to those in his own dugout.

“Gil would hit a grand slam and would have his head down all the way around the bases like he felt sorry for the pitcher," Roebuck said. "Now they point in the sky, jump up; so unprofessional! If you did that when I played, you would have been knocked down for sure.”

The newly formed Golden Era committee which is comprised of eight Hall of Famers (one being Hodges’ teammate Tommy Lasorda), five executives and three members of the media, has a tremendous task at hand to pare down the list to one or more candidates that 75% of them agree upon. Hodges’ candidacy has sparked debate for years; however, for Mickens, this vote should close the chapter on an honor Hodges should have received years ago.

“He was an outstanding clutch hitter and his record speaks for itself as far as his being in the Hall of Fame,”  Mickens said. “I believe that his induction is long overdue and it would be a terrible disservice if they pass him up.”


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