They had been sons of the 1920s, Indiana youngsters when Brooklyn got here calling. Gil Hodges, from Petersburg, was about three years older than Carl Erskine, from Anderson. One day, in 1950, they shared a day for the ages: 4 dwelling runs for Hodges and a whole sport — with 4 hits on the plate — for Erskine. The pitcher was pleasant with the slugger and his household.
“I knew his brother and I knew his father,” Erskine mentioned by cellphone from Indiana on Monday. “All three of those men died of the same heart condition. It was rare, but one of the biggest, strongest men on the team was Hodges, and yet his heart was not strong and it took him too early in life.”
Hodges was simply 47 when he died on Easter in 1972, in West Palm Beach, Fla., after a spherical of golf together with his Mets coaches throughout spring coaching. Erskine turns 95 on Dec. 13, one in every of simply two residing Dodgers — with Roger Craig — who performed for the winners of the 1955 World Series. Their candle is flickering, however their legend burns brighter now. Hodges is a Hall of Fame participant.
He made it on Sunday when a 16-person panel, ultimately, delivered a special verdict than all of the others. Denied for 15 years by the writers, and once more by a number of iterations of the veterans committee, Hodges will lastly have a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“It’s a great, great thing that happened for our family,” Gil Hodges Jr. mentioned on Monday. “We’re all thrilled that Mom got to see it, being 95. This was perfect timing.”
Joan Hodges, Gil’s widow, rode with him up Broadway in an open convertible in October 1969, ticker tape swirling like snowfall. That World Series triumph, because the supervisor of the Miracle Mets, was one in every of three for Hodges. He additionally helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win a championship in 1959, his final massive yr as a participant.
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Hodges averaged 30 dwelling runs and 101 runs batted in per season from 1949 by way of ’59. He hit 370 homers general, and in May 1963, when Hodges retired, solely two right-handed hitters (Jimmie Foxx and Willie Mays) had extra dwelling runs. Now there are greater than 40 right-handers forward of Hodges.
His fielding additionally set him aside. Gold Gloves had been first offered in 1957 — the Dodgers’ final yr in Brooklyn and Hodges’ 10th full season — and Hodges claimed the primary three. He didn’t win on title recognition, both.
“A lot of first basemen are good with the glove; Ted Kluszewski, for instance, was an outstanding first baseman, but compared to Hodges he didn’t have the range,” Erskine mentioned. “Gil could go broadly afield. He’d been a catcher at one time earlier, and so he was accustomed to fielding bunts out in front of home plate. He’d charge on a bunt, field the bunt, turn and have a catcher’s throw to second base and nail the runner. I never saw another first baseman who would even try that. But he was agile and he had great hands.”
Hodges might have had essentially the most huge palms in baseball. That is what Roger Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer,” not less than, confirming it with this quip from shortstop Pee Wee Reese: “Gil wears a glove at first base because it’s fashionable. With those hands, he doesn’t really need one.”
Hodges’ case for Cooperstown had lengthy been perplexing. He was gaining momentum on the writers’ poll earlier than he died, then spent greater than a decade in a holding sample, with 49 to 63 p.c of the votes. Historically, practically each candidate to get that a lot assist finally will get in, however the committees had by no means nudged Hodges throughout the 75 p.c threshold.
The 1993 vote was particularly merciless. Roy Campanella, Hodges’ wheelchair-bound Brooklyn teammate who would die that summer season, couldn’t attend the assembly in individual and was not allowed to vote by cellphone. The household was crushed, not less than in the second.
“That hurt a little different, because we had the 12th vote,” Gil Jr. mentioned. “But you know what? When the day ended, everything was still the same. We just went and moved forward.”
One downside for Hodges was that candidates are purported to be judged on a enjoying or a managing profession, not each. By strict interpretation, then, Hodges’ 1969 title with the Mets couldn’t have pushed him over the borderline. But that achievement is integral to his story, and his gamers have lengthy credited Hodges for skillfully utilizing function gamers and insisting on a clear type of play.
After the Mets beat Atlanta in the 1969 National League Championship Series, outfielder Cleon Jones recalled a few years in the past, the Braves’ Hank Aaron warned a Baltimore scout that the favored Orioles could be in hassle.
“If you don’t play the best baseball that you’ve played all year, you’re going to get beat,” Jones mentioned, recalling Aaron’s message. “This is a good team, they don’t make mistakes and they do all the things that it takes to win.”
Jones continued: “And I attribute that to Gil Hodges. Had it been anybody else — Yogi Berra or Wes Westrum or even Casey Stengel as the manager, you wouldn’t be talking about the ’69 Mets. We won because of our leader, which was Gil Hodges, because he instilled that kind of attitude in the ballclub and he didn’t allow us to make mistakes.”
Hodges’ Brooklyn teammates didn’t anticipate him to handle, Erskine mentioned, as a result of he was so composed, by no means vulnerable to tantrums — the alternative, in different phrases, of the Orioles’ Earl Weaver. A supervisor and not using a “forceful personality,” as Erskine put it, was considerably uncommon.
“But if you talk to somebody that played for him as a manager, like Tom Seaver with the Mets, he said, ‘Hodges was quiet, but he had a look that could burn your shorts off,’” Erskine mentioned. “So if he gave you this look, he didn’t have to say anything. He was not a holler guy, but he gave you the look and you had the meaning of it already.”
The Mets couldn’t construct on their championship underneath Hodges. They completed 83-79 in every of the subsequent two seasons, inserting third each instances. Ed Kranepool, their first baseman, insisted Monday that the Mets would have gained “many, many more pennants” had Hodges lived. But after all there is no such thing as a approach to know.
It is a secure wager, although, that Hodges would have accepted his Hall of Fame election with understated grace, not wanting a lot of a fuss. He constructed a legacy and raised a household in New York, however he was Indiana, by way of and thru.
“Down-to-earth people — that was his background, the way he was raised,” Erskine mentioned. “Humility was a part of his life. It came just as natural as breathing. So that was kind of his trademark, and it was a good one.”