This sweltering Sunday in Cooperstown was long overdue for Gil Hodges — about 50 years overdue to be in fact — as one of New York’s baseball icons, first as a slugging first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers and later as the beloved skipper of the Miracle Mets, finally took his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And while such an honor comes 50 years and three months after his death and at a point in his wife’s life where she was unable to attend, the reverberations of this recognition on lower Susquehanna Ave. in the small upstate New York town were hopefully felt downstate to Brooklyn, throughout Queens, over in Los Angeles, and hopefully settled somewhere amongst the cosmos where the powerful right-hander and stoic manager could hear.
“He was a very humble man but he would be so proud to be here with the best of the best in baseball,” his daughter, Irene, said during his enshrinement speech. “Fifty years ago, not only did the Mets and the Dodgers lose one of their heroes, we lost a husband and a father. Our greatest gift, although my father’s life was cut so short, was his influence on those around him.”
Hodges took his place within baseball’s hallowed grounds alongside six other legends of the game: David Ortiz, Buck O’Neil, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Bud Fowler, and Tony Oliva. The latter six were elected thanks to the Era Committee process back in December.
Welcome to baseball immortality, Gil Hodges!
📷 Milo Stewart Jr. pic.twitter.com/3lYJFO0BRK
— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) July 24, 2022
Sunday was just as much of a just reward for the countless fans and teammates that had run tireless campaigns over the decades for the Princeton, IN native, a premier first basemen of his era, and later, an odds-defying manager.
In parts of 18 MLB seasons (2,071 games) with two years eliminated due to military service, Hodges slashed .273/.359/.487 (.846 OPS) with eight All-Star appearances, 1,921 hits, and 370 home runs.
Most of that success came in New York, first with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947-1957 before moving with the franchise out west to Los Angeles in 1958. He came back to New York four years later as a familiar face for the expansion Mets before retiring from playing in 1963.
He was an anchor of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 championship in which he drove in both runs in a 2-0 Game 7 victory over the New York Yankees before winning a title out in Los Angeles four years later.
“He loved Brooklyn and became a part of his community,” Irene said. “He went to church there, walked to the stores… there was never any pretense about him. He was an ordinary man and everyone knew him. He was respected and he showed respect to everyone as well.”
At the time of his retirement, he held the National League record for home runs hit by a right-handed batter and second in MLB history only behind Jimmie Foxx.
His NL record of 14 grand slams also stood from 1957 to 1974.
Over an 11-year peak — one season more than what is normally the first thing Hall of Fame voters look at — from 1949-1959, he slashed .281/.368/.508 (.877 OPS) with averages of 30 home runs and 101 RBI. That included a career-best 1954 season in which he batted .304 with 42 home runs and 130 RBI.
Following his playing days, his exploits in Queens are now the stuff of legend, managing the Miracle Mets in 1969 to one of the most improbable championships in sports — taking a franchise that had never won more than 73 games in a season to 100 wins and a monumental upset of the powerful Baltimore Orioles in five games.
“His finest hour was managing the Miracle Mets of the 1969 World Series championship,” Irene said. “His immediate reaction to my mom: ‘We did it, we brought the championship home.’
“My dad’s humility and presence [was never more obvious] in his office after the big win, my mom said ‘Gil, call your mother, she must be so excited.’ My dad’s reply: Joan, that’s a long-distance call, I don’t think I should make that from the office. I’ll wait until I go home.
“My dad just finished pulling off the miracle of all baseball miracles yet he’d only do what he thought was the right thing. That was my dad”
Hodges’ wife, Joan, is still living in Brooklyn at 96 years old but was unable to attend the festivities on Sunday.
“I’m especially happy for my mother,” Irene said. “I began sobbing probably as much as I did when I lost my father. I was so beyond happy for him and my mom who… was able to hear this news.
“To my dad: I love you so much and I miss you every day and I know you are smiling from heaven now with our sister Barbara who we miss unbelievably. Without a doubt, I know you’re celebrating with Tom and the boys of summer.”