They have been sons of the Twenties, Indiana youngsters when Brooklyn got here calling. Gil Hodges, from Petersburg, was about three years older than Carl Erskine, from Anderson. Sooner or later, in 1950, they shared a day for the ages: 4 residence runs for Hodges and a whole recreation — 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 stated by cellphone from Indiana on Monday. “All three of these males died of the identical coronary heart situation. It was uncommon, however one of many largest, strongest males on the staff was Hodges, and but his coronary heart was not sturdy and it took him too early in life.”
Hodges was simply 47 when he died on Easter in 1972, in West Palm Seaside, Fla., after a spherical of golf together with his Mets coaches throughout spring coaching. Erskine turns 95 on Dec. 13, one among simply two dwelling Dodgers — with Roger Craig — who performed for the winners of the 1955 World Sequence. Their candle is flickering, however their legend burns brighter now. Hodges is a Corridor of Fame participant.
He made it on Sunday when a 16-person panel, ultimately, delivered a unique 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 an incredible, great point that occurred for our household,” Gil Hodges Jr. stated on Monday. “We’re all thrilled that Mother bought to see it, being 95. This was good 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 Sequence triumph, because the supervisor of the Miracle Mets, was one among three for Hodges. He additionally helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win a championship in 1959, his final massive 12 months as a participant.
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Hodges averaged 30 residence runs and 101 runs batted in per season from 1949 by means of ’59. He hit 370 homers total, and in Could 1963, when Hodges retired, solely two right-handed hitters (Jimmie Foxx and Willie Mays) had extra residence runs. Now there are greater than 40 right-handers forward of Hodges.
His fielding additionally set him aside. Gold Gloves have been first introduced in 1957 — the Dodgers’ final 12 months in Brooklyn and Hodges’ tenth full season — and Hodges claimed the primary three. He didn’t win on identify recognition, both.
“Lots of first basemen are good with the glove; Ted Kluszewski, for example, was an impressive first baseman, however in comparison with Hodges he didn’t have the vary,” Erskine stated. “Gil might go broadly afield. He’d been a catcher at one time earlier, and so he was accustomed to fielding bunts out in entrance of residence plate. He’d cost on a bunt, subject the bunt, flip and have a catcher’s throw to second base and nail the runner. I by no means noticed one other first baseman who would even attempt that. However he was agile and he had nice palms.”
Hodges could have had probably the most large palms in baseball. That’s what Roger Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer time,” no less than, confirming it with this quip from shortstop Pee Wee Reese: “Gil wears a glove at first base as a result of it’s modern. With these palms, he doesn’t actually 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. Traditionally, almost each candidate to get that a lot help 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 time, couldn’t attend the assembly in particular person and was not allowed to vote by cellphone. The household was crushed, no less than within the second.
“That damage a bit of completely different, as a result of we had the twelfth vote,” Gil Jr. stated. “However what? When the day ended, every little thing was nonetheless the identical. We simply went and moved ahead.”
One downside for Hodges was that candidates are presupposed to be judged on a taking part in or a managing profession, not each. By strict interpretation, then, Hodges’ 1969 title with the Mets couldn’t have pushed him over the borderline. However 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 within the 1969 Nationwide League Championship Sequence, outfielder Cleon Jones recalled a few years in the past, the Braves’ Hank Aaron warned a Baltimore scout that the favored Orioles is likely to be in bother.
“In case you don’t play one of the best baseball that you simply’ve performed all 12 months, you’re going to get beat,” Jones stated, recalling Aaron’s message. “It is a good staff, they don’t make errors and so they do all of the issues that it takes to win.”
Jones continued: “And I attribute that to Gil Hodges. Had it been anyone else — Yogi Berra or Wes Westrum and even Casey Stengel because the supervisor, you wouldn’t be speaking in regards to the ’69 Mets. We gained due to our chief, which was Gil Hodges, as a result of he instilled that sort of perspective within the ballclub and he didn’t permit us to make errors.”
Hodges’ Brooklyn teammates didn’t anticipate him to handle, Erskine stated, 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 with no “forceful character,” as Erskine put it, was considerably uncommon.
“However in the event you speak to any individual that performed for him as a supervisor, like Tom Seaver with the Mets, he stated, ‘Hodges was quiet, however he had a glance that might burn your shorts off,’” Erskine stated. “So if he gave you this look, he didn’t should say something. He was not a holler man, however he gave you the look and also you had the which means of it already.”
The Mets couldn’t construct on their championship underneath Hodges. They completed 83-79 in every of the following two seasons, putting third each instances. Ed Kranepool, their first baseman, insisted Monday that the Mets would have gained “many, many extra pennants” had Hodges lived. However in fact there isn’t any strategy to know.
It’s a secure guess, although, that Hodges would have accepted his Corridor 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 means of and thru.
“Down-to-earth individuals — that was his background, the way in which he was raised,” Erskine stated. “Humility was part of his life. It got here simply as pure as respiratory. In order that was sort of his trademark, and it was a superb one.”