Gil Hodges’ family has waited 50 years since his death in 1972 for the former Dodgers star first baseman and Mets manager to finally have baseball’s ultimate honor — enshrinement in the Hall of Fame — bestowed upon him.
Members of his Mets’ family also will be making the trek upstate to Cooperstown for the induction ceremony Sunday, including 1969 World Series mainstays Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda and Art Shamsky. Tom Seaver’s daughter, Sarah Seaver Zaske, and longtime PR executive Jay Horwitz also will be among those representing the organization that Hodges fronted to one of two championships in team history.
“I know members of Gil’s family and players who played with him and for him, have lobbied for this however they could. But I think we’re all elated that it finally happened after so many years,” Shamsky said at a remembrance for Hodges, alongside Kranepool, earlier this week on Long Island. “It never ceases to amaze me, what is it now, 53 years later, and we’re still talking about 1969 and Gil.
“In my case, it’s one year that kind of signifies your career and your life. But Gil was so big a part of that, and we would not have won the World Series without him. Obviously, we wouldn’t have won without Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and Cleon Jones and the rest of the guys, either — everybody contributed that year — but Gil was the manager that put it all together.”
Hodges appeared in one game for the Dodgers in 1943 before serving two years in the Marines in World War II, earning a Bronze Star. Shamsky and Kranepool, who also was a 17-year-old rookie teammate of Hodges’ with the expansion 1962 Mets, both referred to him as an “American hero.”
Hodges returned full-time to the Dodgers in 1947 — the year Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier — and went on to belt 370 home runs over the next 17 seasons, with comparable career numbers to Hall of Famers such as Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Jim Rice and Ron Santo.
Hodges’ Hall resume also featured two World Series championships as a player for the Dodgers (1955 in Brooklyn and 1959 in Los Angeles), plus the magical ride leading the Miracle Mets in his second year as their manager in 1969.
Both players believe the pitching-rich Mets would have won more titles under Hodges, but he died unexpectedly of a heart attack two days before his 48th birthday late in spring training on April 2, 1972. He debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot with 24.1 percent in 1969 and topped out at 63.4 percent — shy of the 75 percent necessary for induction. He then fell short in several tries by the various Veterans Committees before finally getting voted in by the Hall’s Golden Eras committee in December.
“I’m so happy that Gil’s wife is still with us to see this day,” Kranepool said of 95-year-old Joan Hodges, who will be unable to attend Sunday’s ceremony. “It’s just great to see it and so well-deserved.
“He probably got more votes than anybody if you count all the times he was on the [different] ballots. He should have been in there a long time ago.”
Both players retold all of the famous stories about Hodges, such as convincing the umpires in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series that Jones had been hit on the foot by a pitch by showing them a shoe-polish mark on the ball. They also discussed accepting Hodges’ reasoning for employing platoons at first base, second base, third base and right field throughout the 1969 season.
“He convinced us all it was in our best interests,” Kranepool said. “There’s not a player around that likes to platoon. It cuts your season and your numbers, but Gil was able to convince us. And we were the better for it.
“As a player, Gil was a true star on and off the field. And as a manager, he was the right guy for our team. He had one set of rules for all 25 guys and we respected him so much. We are all so happy that he’s finally getting this honor.”