BY: Drs. Daniel Marrone and Ira Stolzenberg, SUNY faculty retirees
Gil Hodges was a genuine American hero fighting as a U.S. Marine in World War II as well as playing for and managing Major League Baseball teams. His career spanned from 1943 through 1972 with a 42-month interruption—1943-1946–while he served in combat aboard warships in the Pacific Theater. Hodges became Mets manager 1968. He brought a positive vision and a greater winning ratio to this less than a decade old MLB franchise. For many years, Gil attained a majority of votes to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but not at the minimum 75 percent level. Many fans, including two young boys, now in the 70s, never forgot their idol. Hodges was finally inducted in 2022.
Gilbert Ray Hodges was born on April 4, 1924, in the small town of Princeton, Indiana. At age seven, his family moved 20 miles northeast to another small Hoosier town, Petersburg. It was at Petersburg High School where he exhibited exceptional prowess in sports and earned varsity letters in baseball, basketball, football, and track. In 1943, Gil was signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His initial tenure with “The Bums” lasted only one game, on October 3, 1943.
Just days later, nineteen-year-old Hodges joined the United States Marine Corps. His World War II military service was exemplary as an anti-aircraft gunner aboard U.S. Navy warships in the Pacific Theater. For his valor, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with a Combat “V” for heroism under fire. In January 1946, he was honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant. Wasting little time, Hodges rejoined the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team, the Newport News Dodgers. His average of .278 in 129 games for the farm club in 1946 was sufficient to bring him back to the parent team in 1947. On August 31, 1950, in a game against the Boston Braves, Gil slammed four home runs. The Gold Gloves Awards for fielding excellence commenced in 1958. Hodges earned this award three times in his career. The year 1958 was also deeply disappointing for Brooklyn Dodger fans. That year, the team’s owner, Walter O’Malley, relocated the “Bums” to Los Angeles.
Hodges returned to New York as a Mets player in 1962. Fittingly, he hit the first home run in Mets history. Plagued with leg injuries, he was traded after only 11 games in 1963 to the Washington Senators. There, he transitioned from player to manager. Five years later, Hodges became the Mets manager. Even with Hodges at the helm, the Mets continued a long run of disappointing years. In 1968, they finished ninth place. However, with Gil’s leadership, the Mets became the World Series champions one year later in 1969. On April 2, 1972–two days before his 48th birthday–Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack.
During his MLB playing career, Hodges was an eight-time All-Star achieved a batting average of .273 with 370 home runs—a second place record for right-handed hitters in the National League. Playing in 2,071 MLB games, he hit 295 doubles and is credited with 63 stolen bases. He ranked 35th in career runs-battled-in matching legendary slugger Hank Greenberg. In terms of hitting homers with the bases loaded, Gil ranks among the top 20 “grand slam” hitters in National League history and at retirement held the National League career record.
Hodges’ legacy extends far beyond baseball. On April 4, 1978, on what would have been his 54th birthday, the Marine Parkway Bridge was renamed in his honor the Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Bridge. Belt Parkway motorists in Brooklyn pass the Gil Hodges Little League Field on Shell Road. In 1982, he was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame. A lengthy stretch of Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn was officially renamed “Gil Hodges Way” in 2001. The USMC inducted him in 2007 into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame. On August 15, 2021, Gil was inducted in the New York State Sports Hall of Fame.
Amidst these accolades, induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame eluded him until December 5, 2021. On that day, Hodges posthumously received 12 of 16 votes and finally met the 75 percent threshold requirement. The formal induction ceremony occurred on Sunday, July 24, 2022. At the event, Irene Hodges, Gil’s daughter, delivered a tear-laced acceptance speech on his behalf that also brought tears to many loyal Hodges fans that attended, including Ira. Being in the audience that day was awesome. Also, there were many old age Brooklyn Dodger fans, who may have seen Gil play in Ebbets Field. They say that all good things are worth waiting for, but Hodges should have elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame many years ago. Better late than never. Congratulations to an excellent ball player, manager, husband, father, and U.S. Marine patriot!