In death, Gil Hodges is almost more influential than he was in life.
The iconic Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman, who died of a heart attack two days shy of his 48th birthday in 1972, has inspired everything from newspaper articles to Facebook groups in recent years calling for his selection to the Hall of Fame.
Hodges fell just short with the Baseball Writers Association of America in his 15th and final year of eligibility in 1983 when he received 63.4 percent of the votes, less than the 75 percent needed for induction. It’s among the most votes any man not in the Hall of Fame has received, and in fact, six players who got fewer votes than Hodges did in 1983 have since been selected to Cooperstown.
Hodges is eligible for selection by the Veterans Committee, and whether he eventually is honored could depend on the following:
1. Hodges came close with the writers, like recent Veterans Committee selections: In the past 20 years, the Veterans Committee has named 10 modern era Major League Baseball players to the Hall of Fame. The committee’s task is to find overlooked players, but it tends to honor players who garnered significant support with the writers. Recent committee honorees appeared on the writers ballot 13 years apiece, on average, and Jim Bunning and Nellie Fox each came within one percent of the needed votes. Of the remaining eight players, Hodges got a higher percentage of the writers vote than seven.
2. Sentimental appeal: Besides inspiring the newspaper articles and Facebook support, Hodges was mentioned in the 1989 film Field of Dreams as one of the ghost ballplayers, and Roger Kahn wrote of him in The Boys of Summer.
3. Hodges ranks among the finest defensive first basemen of all-time: He won three straight Gold Glove awards from 1957 through 1959 and led all National League first basemen in fielding percentage four times, among other things. Lifetime, Hodges is second in NL history with 1,281 assists and 1,614 double plays.
1. Hodges’ offensive numbers don’t compare to many Hall of Famers: By no means did Hodges put up poor career numbers. His 370 home runs are more than Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner or Johnny Mize. It’s just that little is spectacular about Hodges’ totals, overall, from his.273 batting average to his.487 slugging percentage to his 1,921 career hits. None of the ten players that Baseball Reference lists Hodges most similar to offensively are in Cooperstown.
2. His career was deceptively short: Though Hodges appeared in 18 seasons, he had just 12 with at least 400 plate appearances and was a bench player his final four seasons.
3. Defense is often not a ticket into Cooperstown: For every defensive wizard like Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Bill Mazeroski in the Hall of Fame, there are many more offensive stalwarts like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or Ted Williams. In fact, two of the finest defensive first basemen of all-time, Keith Hernandez and Hal Chase, are not in Cooperstown. Chase was barred from the game for gambling, while Hernandez had well-documented drug problems and, like Hodges, declined rapidly at the end of his career.
4. The Veterans Committee moves slowly and many worthy players could also be considered: It’s not difficult to make a list of the ten best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. In fact, many former All Stars fell short with the writers and, like Hodges, exhausted their 15 years of eligibility, including Roger Maris, Don Newcombe, Tony Oliva, Maury Wills and Tommy John. Over the last 20 years, the Veterans Committee has honored an average of one modern era player every two years and sometimes waits decades to tab forgotten men. The most recent player selected by the committee, Joe Gordon in 2009, last appeared on the writers ballot in 1970.
Bottom line: Hodges voting totals indicate he may get selected by the Veterans Committee in the next 10 to 15 years, but it’s no sure thing.