Inductee — Gilbert Ray Hodges
Class of 1979
Birthplace: Princeton, IN
First Baseman, Catcher, Outfielder
HODGES, Gilbert Raymond (“Bud,” “The Quiet Man”) – born Apr. 4, 1924, Princeton; died Apr. 2, 1972, West Palm Beach, Fla. Brooklyn (NL), 1943, 1947-1957, Los Angeles (NL) 1958-1960, New York (NL) 1962-1963. 1B, OF, C, 3B, 2B. 2,071g, 7,030ab, 370, .273. Debuted Oct. 3, 1943. 6-1 1/2, 200, BR, TR. MGR, Washington (AL) 1963-1967, New York (NL) 1969-1971, 658-754.
A baseball legend both in Indiana and New York, Gil Hodges was a power-hitting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers who later managed the Mets to their first pennant and a World Series triumph. The son of a coal miner, Hodges won seven letters at Petersburg High School. He declined an offer from the Detroit Tigers to attend St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where he was a member of the baseball, football, basketball and track squads. In 1943, while playing shortstop for an industrial league team in Indianapolis, Hodges had a contract offer from the Dodgers. He joined the club without ever having played in the minor leagues, appearing in one game as a third baseman. Hodges entered the Marine Corps when the season ended. He served in the Pacific and was discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1946.
Brooklyn assigned Hodges to Macon (South Atlantic) in ’46, hoping to convert him into a catcher. He rejoined the Dodgers in 1948, but by then future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella was catching for the Dodgers. Hodges again switched positions, this time moving to first base. Almost overnight, Hodges developed into one of the league’s best. He was named to seven N.L. All-Star teams (1949-51, ’53-55 and ’57) and helped Brooklyn to six pennants (1947, ’49, ’52, ’53, ’55, ’56). In his best year, 1954, Hodges hit .304 with 42 home runs and 130 runs batted in. He drove in over a hundred runs each year from 1949 to 1955. From 1950 to 1957 Hodges averaged around 32 homers a year. His most awesome display of power came on Aug. 31, 1950, when Hodges belted four homers in a single game against the Boston Braves. Hodges had 14 grand slams during his career, a new league record. His lifetime total of 370 homers was an N.L. record for right-handed batters.
Hodges also excelled on defense, leading N.L. first basemen in fielding three times. He was an acknowledged leader on Brooklyn’s “Boys of Summer” teams. He was also a favorite of Ebbets Field fans, who cheered for Hodges throughout a dreadful 0-for-21 slump during the 1952 World Series. Hodges was one of the most physically powerful players of all time. Noting Hodges’ huge hands, Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese once said that his teammate wore a first baseman’s glove “only because it’s fashionable.”
Hodges married Brooklyn native Joan Lombardi, and made his home there year-round. He accompanied the Dodgers to Los Angeles when the team moved there after the 1957 season, and in 1959 he played in his seventh and final World Series. The fledgling New York Mets selected Hodges in the expansion draft prior to the 1962 season. The 38-year-old Hodges opened the season as the Mets’ first baseman, but played in just 54 contests due to injuries. In May 1963 the Mets traded Hodges to the Washington Senators, who named him manager.
In each of Hodges’ five years at the helm, the Senators’ victory total increased. After he guided the Senators to a sixth-place finish in 1967, Hodges returned to New York for a third time, this time as manager of the Mets. The Mets had been doormats since their first season, but the farm system was beginning to deliver talented players. Hodges almost didn’t survive his first year, suffering a heart attack in September 1968. He recovered, and a year later to the date the Mets won the N.L.’ s eastern division title. The Mets went on to win the pennant, and in the World Series they defeated the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles. Tom Seaver, the Mets’ star pitcher, said that during the final six weeks of the 1969 season Hodges was “an infallible genius.”
The Mets finished third in both 1970 and 1971. In 1972, Hodges suffered a second heart attack during spring training. He died instantly, just two days before his 48th birthday. He was mourned in Indiana, in New York and throughout the nation. During his 14 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Hodges received 3,010 votes – the most of any player who has yet to be elected. In 1979 he was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.
A recipient of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1959, Hodges is still remembered in New York and Indiana. The Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge spans the inlet between Brooklyn and Rockaway. Another spans the east fork of White River in Indiana’s Pike County. A Little League Field in Brooklyn also bears his name. Hodges’ son, Gil Jr., played for Long Island University and was drafted by the Mets in 1972. Hodges was nicknamed “Bud” by his boyhood friends. The “Quiet Man” sobriquet came from the classic 1952 John Wayne film.
From The Encyclopedia of Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players, copyright (c) 2007 by Pete Cava. Reproduced with the author’s permission.