The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s had plenty of bust ’em in the lineup, with the likes of Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo, but the most steady producer on the club was one Gil Hodges. Consistency is the word that comes to mind when describing Hodges. In his peak years, the slugging first baseman was good for 30 homeruns and 110 RBI, yet never once led the league in any major offensive category – hence his “consistent” tag and not the “great” tag.
Gil broke in as a 19 year old third baseman with the 1943 Dodgers, but it would be another four years before he got his second look at the Major League level. Gil was inducted into the military during World War II and missed two years. When he returned, the Dodgers had no place for him on the field. He wasn’t suited for third base, so the Dodgers converted him to catcher. After learning the craft of the backstop, the Dodgers scrapped that experiment when they signed Negro League star Roy Campanella, thus positioning Gil at first base.
He became the Dodgers regular first baseman in 1948 but struggled at the beginning of his career. His breakout year came in 1949 when he led all first basemen with 115 RBI for the NL pennant winning Dodgers. They took on the Yankees in the World Series, and Gil clubbed a homer in a losing cause. But he would get many more cracks at Fall Classic competition.
The first year of the 1950s, Gil paced NL 1B with 32 homers and 113 RBI. He followed up that solid showing by posting his first 40-homerun season in 1951. His 40 long balls, .527 SA and 118 runs scored bested all Major League first basemen that year and he led his NL peers with 103 RBI. A return trip to the World Series was in the cards in 1952, as Gil led NL first basemen in homeruns, RBI and walks. But Gil was in the midst of a nasty slump at the end of the year which brought his season batting average down to .254. He carried the slump into the World Series and went hitless in 21 at-bats. Despite his anemic showing in the ’52 World Series, Gil has a lifetime post season batting average of .267.
Gil solved his problem in 1953 and led all 1B with 122 RBI. His bat may have not gained admittance to the ’52 World Series, but it has on display in the 1953 Series. Despite losing to the Yankees again, Gil hit .364. 1954 was another solid, consistent season from Hodges. Gil led all 1B with 106 runs and finished second to the mighty Ted Kluszewski in homers and RBI. Gil made his fifth World Series appearance in 1955 and hit .292 for the Dodgers, who, finally, toppled the mighty Yankees.
The Dodgers copped another pennant in 1956, as Gil drove in 8 runs in a Fall Classic loss to the Yankees. In 1957, Gil led all 1B with 97 runs scored and won the first of three consecutive Gold Glove Awards. After a poor 1958 season (the first time Gil failed to drive in 70 runs on a full work load), Gil was ready for some redemption in 1959 and got it – with another NL pennant and world title. In the ’59 Series, Hodges led all participants with a .391 batting average.
1959 proved to be Gil’s last good year as his batting average fell below .200 in 1960. He finished his playing career with the 1963 Mets. After retiring as a player, the personable Hodges seemed a lock for managerial material. He was given the post by the Washington Senators the same year he retired as a player. The Senators were an awful team – dead last in the American League – but they steadily improved during Gil’s tenure. After a tenth place finish in ’63, they finished ninth in ’64, eighth in ’65 and ’66 and then sixth in 1967. For his troubles, the Senators canned Gil and he went to New York to do the same thing with the hapless Mets.
Inheriting a last place team again, Gil moved them up one rung on the ladder in 1968 to ninth place, then did the unthinkable in 1969. Hodges motivated his charges to a world title, leading the Miracle Mets, a ninth place team the season before, to the top of the baseball world. No longer the lovable losers, Gil transformed the Mets into a force. After two third place finishes, just before spring training in 1972, Gil suffered a heart attack and died.
Coupling Gil’s managerial career with his playing career, you get quite a strong Hall of Fame candidate. Granted, Gil’s record as a manager is of the losing variety, he inherited some awful teams and brought them out of the cellar, even winning a title in the process.
Gil Hodges career stats: G 2,071/R 1,105/H 1,921/2B 295/HR 370/RBI 1,274/BB 943/SO 1,137/BA .273/SA .487
Managerial Record: W 660/L 753/PCT .467 – 1 pennant and world title