March 3, 2007 / Sports

Hodges sliding away from Hall

for The Brooklyn Paper
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God only knows, God makes his plan.
The information unavailable to the mortal man.
We’re workin’ our jobs, collect our pay.
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.
Slip slidin’ away, slip slidin’ away.
You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away.
— Simon and Garfunkel

According to Greek mythology, it was the torturous task of Sisyphus to endlessly push a rock up a hill, only to have the boulder slip and slide back down just as the rock neared the summit.

The family and fans of the late Gil Hodges have also suffered a Sisyphean fate through the years as Hodges’ candidacy for the Hall of Fame repeatedly appeared to reach Cooperstown’s zenith only to slide back to earth when the votes were tallied.

Such was the result once again on Tuesday when the Veterans Committee of the Baseball Writers Association nixed Hodges’s hopes for a Hall pass yet again.

And that’s too bad for Hodges, but also for baseball.

In his 18-year-career — all with the Dodgers and the Mets — Hodges was an eight-time All-Star, and had seven straight 100 RBI seasons. His 370 homers set a record at the time for the most homers ever by a National League righty.

During the 1950s, only Hall of Famer Duke Snider surpassed him in total homers or RBI.

Hodges was one of the best fielding first baseman of all time, winning three straight Gold Gloves (1957–59) — and he might have won more, but the award wasn’t created until 1957, when Hodges was already 33. He had 1,281 assists and 1,614 double-plays as a first baseman, both second all-time when he retired.

But numbers don’t tell the entire story about this legend. Hodges was a straight arrow, a gentleman so beloved at Ebbets Field that he reputedly was the only Dodger that the Flatbush faithful never booed. In fact, during his horrific, hitless slump during the 1952 World Series, instead of raspberries and Bronx cheers, Dodger fans gave Hodges lucky rabbits’ feet — and their prayers.

But Hodges is perhaps best remembered for his managerial talents. As a skipper, he led the “miracle” New York Mets to their first World Series win in 1969, and was a highly regarded manager when he passed away, at 47, from a heart attack before the 1972 season.

So, why has he faced only rejection?

For one thing, it’s tricky to be voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee. This year, no one got elected. Hodges got 50 votes, or 12 short of the 75 percent needed to make the Hall.

In 2005, Hodges received 52 votes, just eight votes short. The closest he ever came was in 1993, when he was just one vote shy.

“Gil was an excellent player and a brilliant manager,” former Dodger teammate Carl Erskine said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I’ve felt all along that he has the credentials to be a Hall-of-Famer.”

Given the rules for election into the Hall — “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which he played” — it is absurd that Hodges remains on the outside looking in.

Integrity? Would you want your surgeon or fireman to have the integrity of Gil Hodges or of Pete Rose? So if Rose’s lack of integrity keeps him out of the Hall, shouldn’t Hodges’s integrity put him in?

Sportsmanship? Hodges’s strength was legendary, yet he never used it to bully smaller players. Instead, he was a peacemaker. He didn’t argue with umpires or trash talk opponents.

Character? Hodges fully backed Jackie Robinson from the first, when some teammates didn’t. Hodges was a Marine who fought at Okinawa, receiving a Bronze Star.

Contribution to the team(s) on which he played? Robinson, Snider, Campanella, and Reese — the other Dodger position players from the late 1940s to 1957 — are already in the Hall of Fame.

Hodges helped the Dodgers to seven pennants and two World Series wins, the second in Los Angeles. In the prime of his career, he played nearly every game, and led by example.

The next chance for Hodges is in 2009. Meanwhile, the players on the Veterans Committee will get younger, and fewer will remember Hodges’s career, further diminishing his chances.

The Hall of Fame voters should attach more weight to the criteria of integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to a team.

Before steroid users and possible perjurers reach Cooperstown, let’s put Gil Hodges back where he belongs — in the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup, the one in Cooperstown.

Updated 4:27 pm, July 9, 2018
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