the years after World War II, baseball fans in the New York area
couldn’t help but revel in the talent and skill of Gil
Hodges. An enduring figure in baseball history, Hodges’ playing
career spanned 18 years and three teams.
Gilbert Ray Hodges was born to Irene and Charlie Hodges on
April 4, 1924 in Princeton, Indiana. At a young age, Gil was
instilled with a passion for athletics by his father who wanted
to see his son achieve more success in life than he had. As a
result, Gil developed tremendous athletic potential, attracting
the attention of professional sport teams.
In 1941, Hodges accepted a scholarship from St. Joseph’s
College in Indiana and majored in physical education. While
in school, he played baseball during the 1942 and 1943 seasons.
It was around that time that Hodges was spotted by a part-time
scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Stanley Feezle. He signed a
contract but appeared with the team for only one game, in the
third base position.
Life for Hodges soon took a drastically different turn once
World War II broke out. Having served as a member of the Marines
ROTC program at St. Joseph’s, he had to give up playing
baseball and soon went into battle at Tinian and Okinawa for
the U.S. Navy. He garnered many accolades for honorable service,
including earning a bronze star
before his discharge in 1946.
Back at home with the Dodgers once again, Hodges was ready
to make history. He switched from third base to first, a position
which gave him more confidence and a greater chance to prove
himself to his teammates and the public. By 1949, he was heralded
as one of the league’s finest first basemen.
Throughout the 1950s, Hodges’ career gained further
momentum. He hit at least 30 home runs a season for five consecutive
years, from 1950 to 1954. During these years, he hit 40 or
more home runs a season twice. Also, he had more RBIs (1001)
during the 1950s than any other player in the league. In addition,
he was an eight-time All-Star from 1949-1955 and 1957.
After 14 years in Brooklyn, Hodges and the team moved to the
West Coast to begin playing in Los Angeles. He would remain
there for three seasons, until 1961. At that time, he started
to contemplate retirement due to chronic knee pain. When the
Mets showed interest in the expansion draft, he agreed to keep
playing, since he would be back in his home state of New York.
The years of 1962 and 1963 were Hodges’ last years as
a player. He hit his last home run in 1962, bringing his career
total to 370 which, at the time, was the National League record
for home runs by a right handed hitter. In 1963, owners of
the Dodgers negotiated a deal with an expansion club, the Washington
Senators, for him to become their new manager. Thus, Hodges’ career
playing baseball came to a close, but his career as a coach
was only the beginning.
For the next several years, Hodges’ developed the young
Senators into a solid team. In his final year at Washington
in 1967, his team increased their standing to 6th place in
the American League with a record of 76-85. Later that year,
the Mets came back looking for Hodges once again. He was glad
to accept their offer of General Manager in 1968.
Hodges’ managed to assemble a successful team of players
for the Miracle Mets and in 1969, led them all the way to the
World Series Championship. His managerial career was prematurely
cut short when, while golfing in Florida, he suffered a massive
heart attack two days before his 48th birthday.
It goes without saying that beyond the numerical factoids
attributed to athletes, Gil Hodges embodied the best of baseball
through the human qualities he brought to the sport. Today,
legions of fans continue to rally for the time when he will
be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,