Gil Hodges takes his rightful place in Hall

July 24th, 2022

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When Irene Hodges was a little girl, she asked her father, “Do you think you will ever make it into the Hall of Fame?”

Gil Hodges’ response? “No. Never.”

Irene was baffled by her father’s answer. She saw something different and told him how great he was on the diamond.

“I may be good, but those in the Hall of Fame are great players,” Gil told his little girl.

It turns out that Irene knew what she was talking about. Hodges, who passed away during Spring Training in 1972, was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Hodges was voted into the Hall by the Golden Days Era Committee this past December.

“He knew he was a good ballplayer. He was consistent. He was strong,” Irene Hodges told recently. “But he felt there were so many other ballplayers that he had such respect for. They were the top of baseball. He never felt that way about himself.”

Gil Hodges was one of the best sluggers in Dodgers history, hitting 361 career home runs and driving in 100 or more runs in seven straight seasons. Hodges was a key figure in Dodgers teams that went to the World Series seven times during the late 1940s and '50s, winning it all in 1955 and '59.

Hodges may not have led the league in any statistical category in a single season, but his body of work in the 1950s spoke for itself. He led all Major League first basemen during that decade in home runs (310), RBIs (1,001), runs (890), hits (1,491) and games played (1,477). Over a 162-game season, Hodges averaged 29 home runs and 100 RBIs with a .273 batting average.

Hodges posted an OPS+ of 120 or better in nine of 10 seasons from 1950-59, garnering MVP votes in seven of those years. When he retired after the 1963 season, Hodges led all NL right-handed hitters in career home runs (370).

His incredible resume includes success as a manager, too. At the time of his passing, Hodges managed the Mets, and he remains arguably the best skipper in team history. When Hodges joined the team in 1968, he instilled a winning attitude to a franchise that had struggled since its inception in '62. Prior to Hodges' arrival, the Mets were known as the laughingstock of baseball. In its first six years of existence, New York lost 100 games or more five times.

By establishing that baseline in '68, Hodges set the stage for the “Miracle Mets” of '69, guiding the Amazin's to their first World Series title over the heavily favored Orioles. It was New York's pitching staff -- led by fellow Hall of Famer Tom Seaver -- that helped the Mets win the Fall Classic in five games, holding the Orioles to nine runs and a .146 batting average. Several members of that '69 team were in attendance on Sunday, including Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky, Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda.

Watching her father win that World Series is Irene Hodges' favorite memory of her father.

“My dad had the most amazing smile from ear to ear,” she said about winning the '69 World Series. “That day will stand out forever. He was still in uniform. He had his hat on. He was just standing there smiling saying, 'Can you believe this?' I could see it like it was yesterday.”

Many members of the Hodges family were at the Hall of Fame ceremony, with Irene taking the podium to make her first public speech. Although she was not able to attend, Gil's widow, Joan, 95, watched the ceremony on TV in Brooklyn. 

Hodges knocked the speech out of the park. Yes, she talked about her father's baseball career, but she wanted people to know about her father off the field. 

For example, after playing just one game for the Dodgers in 1943, Hodges joined the military and fought in the Battle of Okinawa, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroism under fire.

It was during the war that Hodges displayed his love for people. He befriended Japanese kids and taught them the game of baseball. 

“He [put some joy back in the kids'] lives where the war robbed them of [happiness],” Irene Hodges said.

Jackie Robinson was the first African-American player to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues in 1947. Pee Wee Reese has received much of the credit for helping Robinson adjust to life in the Major Leagues, but Irene reminded fans that Gil played a huge role as well. He made sure that opponents didn't mess with Robinson as they were approaching Robinson at second base.

“Nothing was more important to my dad than giving Jackie all of his support,” Irene Hodges said. “We were like family with the Robinsons. Jackie's kids played in our house. We played in theirs. My dad and Jackie were not only teammates, they were family. My father made everyone feel comfortable.”              

While she spoke about her father on stage, Hodges wore the ring belonging to her younger sister, Barbara, who passed away four years ago. She was 55.

“She consumes every day of my life,” Hodges told recently. “My sister was very young when she passed. There is so much emotion involved in this for so many reasons. The first and foremost is that I'm happy for my dad, because I think he deserves it.”