Today's Birthday Honoree: Gil Hodges, Manager of the 1969 "Miracle Mets" and Brooklyn Dodgers Star.
Gilbert Ray Hodges (April 4, 1924 – April 2, 1972) was an American Major League Baseball (MLB) first baseman and manager who played most of his 18-year career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. He guided the “Miracle Mets “to their first World Series title in 1969, considered one of the greatest upsets in baseball history and helped the Brooklyn Dodgers defeat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series, Brooklyn's sole championship. Gil was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1982. His final resting place is Brooklyn's Holy Cross Cemetery.
Hodges is generally considered to be the best defensive first baseman of the 1950s. He was an All-star for eight seasons and a Gold Glove Award winner for three consecutive seasons. Hodges was the National League (NL) leader in double playsfour times and in putouts, assists and fielding percentage three times each. He ranked second in NL history with 1,281 assists and 1,614 double plays when his career ended, and was among the league's career leaders in games (6th, 1,908) and total chances (10th, 16,751) at first base.
Hodges was born in Princeton, Indiana, the son of coal miner Charles and his wife Irene, He had an older brother, Robert, and a younger sister, Marjorie. The family moved to nearby Petersburg when Hodges was seven. He was a star four-sport athlete at Petersburg High School, earning a combined seven varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball and track. Hodges declined a 1941 contract offer from the Detroit Tigers, instead attending Saint Joseph's College with the hope of eventually becoming a collegiate coach. Hodges spent two years (1941–1942 and 1942–1943) at St Joseph's, competing in baseball, basketball and briefly in football.
He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, and appeared in one game for the team as a third baseman that year. Hodges entered the United States Marine Corps during World War II after having participated in its Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at Saint Joseph's. He served in combat as an anti-aircraft gunner in the battles of Tinian and Okinawa, and received a Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" for heroism under fire.
Hodges was called up to Brooklyn in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. He played as a catcher, joining the team's nucleus of Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo. With the emergence of Roy Campanella behind the plate, manager Leo Durocher shifted Hodges to first base.
On June 25, 1949, Hodges hit for the cycle on his way to his first of seven consecutive All-Star teams. For the season, his 115 runs batted in ranked fourth in the NL, and he tied Hack Wilson's 1932 club record for right-handed hitters with 23 home runs. Defensively, he led the NL in putouts (1,336), double plays (142) and fielding average (.995). Facing the Yankees again in the 1949 Series, he batted only .235 but drove in the sole run in Brooklyn's only victory, a 1–0 triumph in Game Two. In game five, he hit a two out, three-run homer in the seventh to pull the Dodgers within 10–6, but struck out to end the game and the Series.
A great fan favorite in Brooklyn, Hodges was perhaps the only Dodgers regular never booed at their home park Ebbets Field. Fans were very supportive even when Hodges suffered through one of the most famous slumps in baseball history: after going hitless in his last four regular-season games of 1952, he also went hitless in all seven games of the 1952 World Series against the Yankees (finishing the Series 0-for-21 at the plate), with Brooklyn losing to the Yankees the in seven games.
In 1955, Hodges helped the Dodgers their only World Series victory against the Yankees. In Game 4, Hodges hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to put Brooklyn ahead, 4–3, and later had a single that drove in a run as they held off the Yankees, 8–5; he also scored the first run in the Dodgers' 5–3 win in Game 5. In Game 7, he drove in Campanella with two out in the fourth inning for a 1–0 lead, and added a sacrifice fly to score Reese with one out in the sixth inning. Johnny Podres scattered eight New York hits, and when Reese threw Elston Howard's grounder to Hodges for the final out, Brooklyn had a 2–0 win and their first World Series title in franchise history, and their only championship in Brooklyn.
After being chosen in the 1961 MLB Expansion Draft, Hodges was one of the original 1962 Mets and despite knee problems was persuaded to continue his playing career in New York, hitting the first home run in franchise history. By the end of the year, in which he played only 54 games, he ranked tenth in MLB history with 370 home runs – second to only Jimmie Foxx among right-handed hitters. He also held the National League (NL) record for career home runs by a right-handed hitter from 1960 to 1963, and held the NL record for career grand slams from 1957 to 1974.
In 1968 Hodges was brought back to New York to manage the perennially woeful Mets, and while the team only posted a 73–89 record it was nonetheless the best mark in their seven years of existence up to that point. In 1969, he led the "Miracle Mets" to the World Series championship, defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles; after losing Game 1, they came back for four straight victories, including two by 2–1 scores. Finishing higher than ninth place for the first time, the Mets became not only the first expansion team to win a World Series, but also the first team ever to win the Fall Classic after finishing at least 15 games under .500 the previous year. Hodges was named The Sporting News' Manager of the Year, in skillfully platooning his players, utilizing everyone in the dugout, keeping everyone fresh. Hodges continued as manager through the 1971 season. He died before the opening of the 1972 season and was succeeded by Yogi Berra.
On the afternoon of April 2, 1972, Easter Sunday, Hodges was in West Palm Beach, Florida
completing a round of golf with Mets coaches Joe Pignatano, Rube Walker, and Eddie Yost, when he collapsed en route to his motel room at the Ramada Inn across the street from Municipal Stadium, then the spring training facility of the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos. Hodges had suffered a sudden heart attack and was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital where he died within 20 minutes of arrival.
Jackie Robinson, himself ill with heart disease and diabetes, told the Associated Press, "He was the core of the Brooklyn Dodgers…. I have tremendous feelings for Gil's family and kids." Robinson died of a heart attack six months later on October 24 at age 53.
Duke Snider said "Gil was a great player, but an even greater man." "I'm sick," said Johnny Podres, "I've never known a finer man." A crushed Carl Erskine said "Gil's death is like a bolt out of the blue." Don Drysdale, who himself died in Montreal of a sudden heart attack in 1993 at age 56, wrote in his autobiography that Hodges' death "absolutely shattered me. I just flew apart. I didn't leave my apartment in Texas for three days. I didn't want to see anybody. I couldn't get myself to go to the funeral. It was like I'd lost a part of my family."
The wake was held at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Midwood, Brooklyn, on April 4, what would have been Hodges' 48th birthday. Approximately 10,000 mourners attended the service. Broadcaster Howard Cosell was one of the many attendees at the wake. According to Gil Hodges Jr., Cosell brought him into the back seat of a car, where Jackie Robinson had been crying hysterically. Robinson then held Hodges Jr. and said, "Next to my son's death, this is the worst day of my life."
Hodges was survived by his wife, the former Joan Lombardi (b. 1926 in Brooklyn), whom he had married on December 26, 1948, and their children Gil Jr. (b. 1950), Irene, Cynthia and Barbara. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Yogi Berra succeeded him as manager, having been promoted on the day of the funeral. The American flag flew at half-staff on Opening Day at Shea Stadium, while the Mets wore black armbands on their left arms during the entire 1972 season in honor of Hodges. On June 9, 1973, the Mets again honored Hodges by retiring his uniform number 14.
In 2014, Hodges appeared for the second time as a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Golden Era Committee election ballot for possible Hall of Fame consideration in 2015. He and the other candidates all missed getting elected. The committee meets and votes on ten candidates selected from the 1947 to 1972 era every three years. Many baseball experts and fans believe that Hodges deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps someday he will get his due.
(this post is mostly excerpted from Gil Hodges' Wikipedia page)