Thursday, October 10, 2013

IN MEMORIAM- PART VIII: GIL HODGES

Today I want to pay my respects to a legend that inexplicably has not been inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame: Gil Hodges.
Excelling on the field for the Dodgers as well as in the dugout for the Mets, Hodges became a legend in the New York area, and his name still has recognition around here thanks to the top-notch little league that kids flock to every year (of which I also took part in as a kid 30-35 years ago).
After his Hall-worthy playing career Hodges was the first successful manager of the New York Mets, and was depicted on Topps cards in the late-60's and early-70's.
But sadly, by the time late series packs of 1972 cards were finding their way into neighborhood candy stores, Hodges passed away just before the 1972 season of a sudden heart attack at a young 47 years of age, leaving us with yet another card becoming a sort of "memorial" to an already deceased baseball figure.
Needless to say there was nothing Topps could do to pull his card and swap it with one showing his unexpected replacement, Yogi Berra.
So instead, card #465 of the 1972 set had Hodges smiling near the batting cages at Shea Stadium during B.P. in 1971. A nice "final" card to say the least.
As with other subjects in this thread, I've added a "memorial" banner running across the bottom of the card.

April 4, 1924 - April 2, 1972.
Now allow my little rant here and let's look at Gil Hodges' career a bit to see how mystifying it is that Cooperstown hasn't deemed him worthy of induction.
As a player, Hodges came up with the Dodgers for good in 1947 after a few years in the military, just in time to become a cog on the powerhouse Brooklyn teams throughout the 1950's.
Playing alongside Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, Hodges more than held his own, putting up power numbers that any team in the league would have been ecstatic with.
Here's a guy that manned first base while pounding 370 career homers, six times slamming 30 or more in a season.
He also produced seven consecutive seasons of 100 or more runs batted in (1949-1955), and was recognized with nine years of M.V.P. consideration when voting came around.
On the defensive side of things he was no slouch either, leading the league in multiple categories multiple times: three fielding titles, three seasons leading the N.L. in putouts, three times leading in assists and four seasons leading the league in turning double plays.
This was a true All-Star first baseman year in and year out!
Immediately after his playing days were over in 1963, Hodges was hired to manage the Washington Senators and struggled with a bad team, finishing in the American League second division every year between 1963 and 1967.
However from his first full season in 1964 to his last, the team saw a 15 game improvement, ending that campaign with a 76-85 record, good for sixth in the A.L.
The following season Hodges found himself back in New York, managing the Mets out in Queens.
After a ninth place finish his first year there (just one game above the last place Houston Astros), Hodges and the Mets did the unthinkable in 1969.
Lead by a young corps of talented guns like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and a yet "unknown" Nolan Ryan, they managed a historic 27-game turnaround, good for first place in the new N.L. East with a record of 100-62.
Once into the postseason, they stunned the baseball world by sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, then defeating the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series four games to one, claiming about as unexpected a championship as anybody could have dreamed of.
This is a guy who proved himself time and again, both as a star player and world champ manager, yet we see others like Jesse Haines, Travis Jackson or even contemporaries like Bill Mazeroski or teammate Reese get inducted in the Hall instead of him.
I'd love to see the day when Major League Baseball makes this right and placed Gil Hodges in Cooperstown where he deserves to be.
My little rant for today...

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