Gil Hodges & the HOF: Has the Never Ending Story Finally Ended?

This past December, followers of that never-ending question, why isn’t Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame, received quite a shock. No, Hodges was not elected. In fact, none of the nine worthy former players considered by the sixteen member Golden Era Veteran’s committee was elected. The shock was, that after coming so close so many times over the past four decades, Hodges only got three or less votes out of a possible 64 (the 16 members have 4 votes each, assuming they use them). We don’t know how many votes Hodges received since an exact vote total was only reported for Dick Allen (11), Tony Oliva (11), Jim Kaat (10), Maury Wills (9), and Minnie Minoso (8).

Why such a poor showing for Hodges after so many near misses? As far as I know his statistical record did not worsen since the last time the Golden Era Committee met. Hodges still ended the last full season of his playing career (1962) in tenth place on the all-time career home run list, he still won a Gold Glove Award the first three years the award was handed out (1957 – 1959) and would have won many more had the award been established earlier, he and Albert Pujois are still the only National League first basemen to hit at least 23 home runs and 100 runs batted in in seven consecutive seasons, and he still received the most HOF votes from the baseball writers than any other player never admitted to the Hall (3,010).

As always, the answer has much to do with the make up of the committee. This time around it included Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, and Don Sutton, four baseball executives (Jim Frey, David Glass, and Roland Hemond, Bob Watson), and four writers (Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe, and Tracy Ringolsby. The sixteen men got together during the baseball winter meetings in San Diego to discuss the candidates and then vote.

Historically, the Hall of Fame players dominate the meeting. They set the tone for the others. And of the players, those who are perceived by their peers as the greatest assume a leadership role. For example, the very first year Ted Williams was a committee member, his former teammate, Bobby Doerr was elected. Williams’s support for the candidacy of his former teammate reveals a logical tendency. Players support the guys they went to war with. In that sense, nothing changed when the latest committee met on Monday.

Rod Carew, one of the greatest hitters of all time, no doubt went to bat for his long-time Minnesota teammates, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. And Jim Bunning, a pitcher on the Phillies from 1964 to 1967, and later a United States Senator, no doubt threw his considerable weight behind his former teammate, Dick Allen. Who wants to disagree with the former Senator from Kentucky? It also didn’t hurt Dick Allen that Pat Gillick was the general manager of the Phillies when they won their last World Series in 2008, and is still affiliated with the Phillies. In St. Louis, Ozzie Smith was not just teammates with Jim Kaat from 1981 to 1983, but a fellow World Series winner in 1982. And Don Sutton was teammates with Maury Wills in Los Angeles in 1966, and again from 1969 to 1972. And former White Sox General Manager, Roland Hemond, who brought Minnie Minoso, a star player in the 1950s, back for cameo appearances in the majors 1976 and 1980, must have backed Minoso. Unlike the prior Golden Era committee when Hodges’ Brooklyn Dodgers teammate, Tommie Lasorda, was a member, Hodges had no one pulling for him this time around.

Despite his poor showing, supporters of Hodges’ candidacy should not lose faith. Ron Santo, who was elected by the Golden Era Committee when it meet three years ago, once garnered so little support (less than 5%) that his name was taken off the writer’s ballot.
Hodges played his first major league season in 1947 and died while managing the New York Mets in 1972. Any objective application of the Golden Era (1947 to 1973) criteria for a candidate who is both a former player and manager should result in Hodges’ eventual election. As the applicable committee rule reads, “Those whose careers entailed involvement in multiple categories will be considered for their overall contribution to the game of Baseball.” Of all the men who ever managed a World Series winning team, Gil Hodges hit more home runs (370) in his playing career than any of them. Although Hodges was not as great a five–tool player as Minnie Minoso, as great a hitter for average as either Tony Oliva or Dick Allen, or as fast a runner as Maury Wills, looking at the totality of his career, Hodges is a Hall of Famer.

Yet, when the committee next meets in three years, no one should assume objectivity will suddenly have any connection to the vote. Hodges only chance will be if his former teammate Sandy Koufax, or one of his former players, such as Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan, or a man whose mother claimed Gil Hodges as her favorite player, Joe Torre, makes it their business to join the Golden Era committee and stand up for Hodges. If Billy Williams could do it for his Cubs teammate, Ron Santo, why shouldn’t they?

Unless they do, when the 50th anniversary of the Mets 1969 World Championship is celebrated, a new generation of fans will wonder how Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver are in the HOF, but Hodges, who out maneuvered them both that season, is not.