Is former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers great Gil Hodges the best eligible position player not in the Hall of Fame? No, Barry Bonds is…or maybe Jeff Bagwell. But five years ago, the answer very well may have been “yes”.
Without all this newfangled steroid nonsense clouding the picture, Hodges’ case depicts perhaps the most lopsided argument in history regarding a player’s Hall of Fame merit. It seems that the lone split in the debate occurs between the people that actually make the Hall of Fame decision and everyone else in the baseball world. When Jim Rice was elected on his 15th and final ballot, Hodges reclaimed the stigmatic title of ownership of the most cumulative HOF votes over time without being inducted. The former all-star averaged over 57 percent in the voting totals during his final ten seasons on the ballot, eclipsing 60 percent three times. Within the Veterans Committee process, Hodges has come as close as one vote shy of making it to the Hall. Though he’s come within an arm’s length of Cooperstown many times, it’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to single out the exact reason for this legend’s continued failure to actually reach it. Let’s look at the history.
Hodges was the first baseman and team leader for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. During that decade, only his teammate Duke Snider (a Hall of Famer) was able to rack up more home runs and RBI. His OPS during the 50s was a solid 0.884 which ranked him 12th overall. All 11 players ahead of him in that category are in the Hall of Fame. If that’s not enough, a very telling comparison comes at the first base position, where frankly, Hodges’ superior numbers make it no comparison at all. Looking at all of the first basemen in the decade, Hodges ranks first in virtually every major offensive category. He led the pack in hits (1,491), runs scored (890), home runs (310), runs batted in (1,001), and OPS (0.884). No other first baseman even comes close.
Even by themselves, all comparisons aside, Hodges’ statistics have more than withstood the test of time. The slugger put together seven consecutive seasons with 100 or more RBI from 1949 through 1955. He was an eight-time all-star and won the first three Gold Gloves awarded to his position. Hodges is the only player in history to retire before 1985 with at least 350 home runs and 1,200 RBIs while collecting fewer than 2,000 hits. He’s also one of only 26 players in history that retired prior to the Steroid Era to have had more than one season of 40-plus home runs. Further, during this period, only Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Johnny Mize had more 100 RBI seasons than Hodges.
And why was it that he failed to reach 2,000 hits? Well for one, he missed three full seasons while serving in the military during World War II. How can anyone hold that against him?
Defensively, Hodges led the league in fielding percentage four times, finishing in the top three an additional six times. And even though he missed those three seasons, he still stands 23rd all time in assists as a first baseman.
Gil Hodges’ amazing World Series run as manager of the “Miracle Mets” of 1969 may have overshadowed his stellar playing career, and he passed away at the very young age of 47, which essentially has kept his name away from the game for the past 40 years. But whatever the reason, it’s not enough to justifiably explain the mistakes of both the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee. Hodges is a true Hall of Famer in every sense of the term, and thus far has nothing to show for it.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)