NEW YORK -- Statistically speaking, no one has had a more thorough wait than Gil Hodges to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Before Sunday, Hodges appeared on various Hall of Fame ballots 34 times, receiving more than 3,000 votes from Baseball Writers’ Association of America members, living Hall of Famers on various committees, and so on and so forth.
For one of the most accomplished individuals in Major League history, it had all been fruitless.
That changed on Sunday. The Hall of Fame’s Golden Days Era panel voted to induct Hodges into Cooperstown posthumously, ending a wait of more than 52 years since he first appeared on a ballot.
Hodges, who died in 1972 just three years after leading the Mets to their first World Series title as a manager, played 18 seasons for the Dodgers and Mets, hitting 370 homers and making eight National League All-Star teams. Following his playing career, he became a manager for the Senators and Mets, shocking the baseball world with a 100-win season and a championship in 1969. To this day, living members of that Mets club credit Hodges for a significant portion of their success.
“He had the misfortune to die young,” outfielder Ron Swoboda said last year. “[Had he lived], it would have cemented him as a Hall of Fame guy in everybody’s mind. There wouldn’t be any issue about that. ... Combined with what he was as a manager, player and man, he belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
When Hodges first became eligible for Cooperstown on the BBWAA ballot -- the Hall’s front door -- in 1969, he received just 24.1% of the vote, though he was not yet a World Series-winning manager at that time, and he found himself on a stacked ballot that included 16 other future Hall of Famers. Hodges’ support doubled the next year and gradually increased over time, but he never garnered more than 63.4% of the vote during his 15 years on the ballot. Hall rules stipulate that an inductee must receive at least 75%.
Over the next four decades, Hodges appeared on various committee ballots 20 different times, culminating Sunday with the Golden Days Era ballot, which included those whose primary contributions occurred from 1950-69. Nine other candidates appeared on this year’s ballot: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minnie Miñoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills.
As on the BBWAA ballot, candidates needed to receive 75% of the vote to gain induction, with the Golden Days Era committee meeting once every five years. Hodges did, along with Kaat, Miñoso and Oliva.
Many within the industry believed Hodges’ induction was overdue, considering he was a borderline Hall of Fame candidate as a player alone. From 1949-59 with the Dodgers, Hodges cemented himself as one of the most feared power hitters in baseball, averaging 30 homers per season during an era when that type of production was rare. At the time of his retirement, Hodges ranked 11th in history with his 370 homers. He became an original Met in 1962 after the club selected him in the Expansion Draft.
Given his longstanding ties to Brooklyn and Queens, Hodges has been revered locally in New York, becoming the second individual (after his predecessor at manager, Casey Stengel) to have his number retired by the Mets, in 1973. Nine years later, Hodges became the first player in franchise history to enter the Mets Hall of Fame.
“If not for Gil Hodges, we would not be here today,” former outfielder Cleon Jones said during the Mets’ World Series 50th anniversary celebration in 2019. “If you knew him as a player, then you would understand him as a manager. … Winning comes from the top down. [General manager] Johnny Murphy, Gil Hodges put all the pieces together. The puzzle was in place.”
Added Jones: “He was everything.”
Now, Hodges is set to be recognized with the game’s highest honor on July 24. He is survived by his 95-year-old widow, Joan, as well as four children, who will have the chance to see their father enshrined in Cooperstown.