Waiting for Gil Hodges, the most hard-luck candidate in Hall of Fame history (2024)

Five months after Gil Hodges died, the Indiana General Assembly dedicated a bridge in his honor. Like the man it was named for, it was not an extravagant structure: Just 900 feet long, built for $1.2 million, spanning a portion of the White River near Petersburg, where Hodges grew up. On the day it was unveiled, 100 local baseball players came out to pay their respects. Hodges’ mother Irene was there, as was a local reverend, Larry Vieck, who read from an inscription on a monument.


“Above all, he was dedicated to God, family, country and the game of baseball.”

Near the bottom of the monument, under the inscription, was an empty space. It would be filled, Vieck said, when Hodges was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nearly a half-century later, the wait continues. Hodges, the former Dodgers great and Mets manager, remains on the outside looking in, perhaps the most hard-luck Hall of Fame candidate in history. There are, of course, more accomplished players not enshrined in Cooperstown, perhaps dozens and dozens. (Hodges, a slugging first baseman, finished his career with 43.9 WAR and a 120 OPS+, strong career numbers if slightly below Hall of Fame standards.) Still, no person has been on a ballot more times (34) or received more votes (more than 3,000) without being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Hodges first appeared on a Hall ballot in 1969, months before he guided the Mets to a World Series championship. Now, 52 years later, his family will hope that the 35th time is a charm. Hodges is one of 10 candidates on this year’s Golden Days Era ballot, one of two era committees that will vote on Sunday. He joins Minnie Miñoso, Dick Allen and Roger Maris, among others, on the Golden Days era list. To earn election, a candidate must receive at least 12 votes from a 16-person committee.

As a player, Hodges was a perennial All-Star and adored by Brooklyn fans, the soul of the team, as it were. As a manager, he was at the reins of one of the sport’s most iconic championships. But his inclusion in this round of Hall of Fame voting, along with former Kansas City Monarchs player and manager Buck O’Neil, underscores an interesting debate about Cooperstown: Do voters under-appreciate candidates whose case stems from a full career in baseball?

O’Neil, for instance, was a solid first baseman for some of the best Negro Leagues teams of his era. He was also an accomplished Negro League manager, the first Black coach in the major leagues and a scout who once signed Lou Brock to his first professional contract. But he was overlooked in 2006, when a special Hall of Fame ballot considered players from the Negro Leagues. He is on the ballot again this year, as part of the Early Baseball Era ballot, the other committee vote taking place on Sunday. (The Baseball Writers Association of America will also cast ballots this month, with those results being unveiled in January.)


Hodges and O’Neil are perhaps the best argument that the Hall of Fame voting system can often fail to recognize the sport’s well-rounded candidates. In other years, perhaps it would be Felipe Alou, the groundbreaking player and manager who had some success in both roles, or Dusty Baker, a tremendous player with the Braves and Dodgers whose recent run with the Houston Astros could finally push him over the top. John Thorn, the official historian for MLB and a member of this year’s Early Baseball Era committee, also points to Doc Adams, a 19th century figure who was a player, an umpire, an equipment maker and one of the fathers of the early game. There are others, too, and when it comes to Hodges, Thorn said his position on his Hall of Fame case has evolved over the years. Thorn, who grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, once conceded that Hodges did not merit induction. Now he sees it differently.

“My thoughts about Gil Hodges have not changed, but perhaps my thoughts about his candidacy have,” Thorn said in an email. “It strikes me now that statistics do not tell the whole story, or even the best one, for men like Joe Torre, Phil Rizzuto, or Gil Hodges (or Candy Cummings or King Kelly). The best criterion for inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame seems to me to be: ‘Were you famous? Or, given later scholarship, should you have been?’”

Hodges certainly meets the fame standard. After debuting with the Dodgers in 1943 and missing three seasons for military service, where he received a bronze star during World War II, he returned to the majors in 1947 and became one of the most beloved players of the era, making eight All-Star Games, earning Most Valuable Player votes in eight different campaigns, hitting 370 career homers, and helping the Dodgers to one World Series championship in 1955 and another once the club moved west to Los Angeles. When his career finished in 1963, he ranked 11th all-time in home runs (and in the top three among right-handers). From 1949 to 1959, a span that represented his peak, he ranked 12th in baseball in Wins Above Replacement, trailing 10 men in the Hall of Fame and Miñoso, who has his own hard-luck case. During the same period, Hodges led all first basem*n in homers, RBIs, total bases and OPS.

Hodges’ case, however, would become defined by what happened after his playing career, in ways both triumphant and tragic. After a stint managing the expansion Washington Senators, he returned to New York in 1968, managing a 73-win team in his first season and the miracle Mets in his second. In the years after the title, his former players would credit him with setting the foundation for the turnaround. In 2011, former Mets ace Tom Seaver called Hodges “the most important man in my career.”

Hodges was just 45 in 1969, which meant he had years to add victories and possibly more pennants and titles to his managerial resume. But he died in the days before the 1972 season, suffering a heart attack at spring training after a round of golf. At his funeral, his former teammate Jackie Robinson broke down into tears.


By then, Hodges had already been on the ballot since 1969. In his 15 years on the Baseball Writers Association of American ballot, he received more than 50 percent of the vote 11 times. In his final year, in 1983, he earned 63.4 percent. He needed 75. Hodges was last on a committee ballot in 2014, when he was reported to have received fewer than four “yes” votes out of 16.

The voting patterns, of course, have never favored Hodges. But as is often the case in baseball, numbers do not always tell the whole story. Hodges was the Dodger who made his home in Brooklyn, who embraced Robinson as a teammate and friend, whose struggles in the 1952 World Series made him feel human and relatable, who was the reason one Brooklyn priest stood in front of his congregation during October and told them to go home and “pray for Gil Hodges.” In a recent essay for MLB.com, the legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully wrote how the Hodges family would grocery shop for Robinson and his wife during spring training, when nearby markets in Florida would not serve Black customers. “While Jackie was the target of many on-the-field skirmishes,” Scully wrote, “Gil was able to defuse many more of them. Their relationship was special.”

The case for Hodges is sentimental, and one that relies on taking a literal interpretation of what the Hall of Fame should be. Jay Jaffe, a writer at FanGraphs and the author of “The Cooperstown Casebook,” has spent years trying to remove sentimentality from the process, using objective metrics and measurements to determine the proper Hall of Fame standards. He sees a compelling case for O’Neil, based on his trailblazing career as a coach and scout and his legacy as an ambassador for the Negro Leagues. He finds the case for Hodges less persuasive.

“Hodges, to me, doesn’t really parallel that in the same way,” Jaffe said. “We can measure what Hodges did as a player and a manager.”

Jaffe points out that there are 11 managers in major-league history with at least 500 wins and at least 30 Wins Above Replacement as a player. Of that group, Hodges is one of three with a World Series championship. The others: Alvin Dark, a former All-Star shortstop who won a World Series with the New York Giants and managed the A’s to a championship in 1974; and Fielder Jones, a player-manager on the 1906 Chicago White Sox. Neither is in the Hall of Fame.

“I feel like, if we’re talking about guys who did both and who did both with some amount of success, (Hodges) doesn’t really stand out to me,” Jaffe said. “It feels more like trying to gerrymander a logic that allows us to anoint Gil Hodges based on this combination.”

As a player, Hodges falls well short of Hall of Fame standards according to Jaffe’s JAWS system, a metric that combines career WAR and a player’s peak. But fortunately for Hodges, O’Neil and other candidates in the future, election is based on voting, which is often subject to the whims of emotion and momentum. In 2000, the Brooklyn community tried a letter-writing campaign to rally people to Hodges’ cause. This year, there’s a film, with endorsem*nts from Scully and members of the 1969 Mets. “I know this,” former Met Ron Swoboda said. “The man should be in the Hall of Fame.”

It’s been more than 50 years since Hodges became eligible for the Hall of Fame. His family, his players and his borough are hoping the wait is over.

(Illustration: Wes McCabe / The Athletic/ Getty Images)

Waiting for Gil Hodges, the most hard-luck candidate in Hall of Fame history (1)Waiting for Gil Hodges, the most hard-luck candidate in Hall of Fame history (2)

Rustin Dodd is a features writer for The Athletic based in New York. He previously covered the Royals for The Athletic, which he joined in 2018 after 10 years at The Kansas City Star. Follow Rustin on Twitter @rustindodd

Waiting for Gil Hodges, the most hard-luck candidate in Hall of Fame history (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Delena Feil

Last Updated:

Views: 6535

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Delena Feil

Birthday: 1998-08-29

Address: 747 Lubowitz Run, Sidmouth, HI 90646-5543

Phone: +99513241752844

Job: Design Supervisor

Hobby: Digital arts, Lacemaking, Air sports, Running, Scouting, Shooting, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Delena Feil, I am a clean, splendid, calm, fancy, jolly, bright, faithful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.