Jun 21, 2016

1973 N.L. Champion Mets Reserve Catcher: Ron Hodges (1973-1983)

Ronald Wray Hodges was born on June 22, 1949 in Rocky Mount, Virginia. Although he shared the same name, he was not related to Gil Hodges in any way.

The six foot one catcher was drafted three different times Baltimore (1970) Kansas City & Atlanta (1971) but didn’t sign with anyone, until 1972. That year he was the second round draft pick of the New York Mets. He spent 1972 at A Ball Pompano Beach bashing 15 HRs with 15 doubles & 48 RBIs in 112 games.

Hodges began 1973 in AA Memphis hitting only .173 but took a giant leap forward very quickly. All of a sudden he was called up to the Mets big league squad when injuries struck Jerry Grote & short time backup catcher Jerry May. Hodges was needed to help back up Duffy Dyer, who had taken over the main catchers job. Hodges made his Mets debut on June 13th 1973 at Shea Stadium against the San Francisco Giants.

He was behind the plate catching Tom Seaver’s eighth victory of his 1973 Cy Young season. In the 7th inning he got his first career hit at the plate.

Hodges caught the next game as well, helping Jon Matlack to a victory, getting another hit & driving in his first career run. Hodges hit safely in eleven of his first thirteen games and seventeen of his first twenty two. He found himself batting over .300 into July, before tailing off just in time for Jerry Grote to get healthy.

He received good reviews from the pitching staff and settled right in with the 1973 Pennant team as the number three catcher. He threw out 43% of the base runners trying to steal & posted a .992 fielding percentage, making only two errors. 

 In late September the Mets were the hottest team in baseball & were in fourth place in the NL East but just 2 1/2 games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On September 18th in a crucial three game series at three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh the Mets came back from a 4-1 deficit in the 9th inning. After Felix Millan tripled home two runs, Hodges singled scoring Millan with the tying run.

The Mets went on to win the game 6-5. Hodges was involved in a famous play that was important to the Mets 1973 pennant run. On September 20th The Mets were in a tight pennant race with three teams, including their opponent of the evening, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With two outs & the game tied in the 13th inning, Ritchie Zisk was on first base. Dave Augustine lined a shot over the head of left fielder Cleon Jones. The ball hit off the top of the wall, and bounced back into Jones' glove. He grabbed it, turned & threw a perfect relay to short stop Bud Harrelson.

Harrelson then threw a perfect bullet to Hodges at the plate. Hodges blocked the plate perfectly and tagged Ritchie Zisk for the third out. It was an exciting play that electrified the team & the Shea fans in the year of "You Gotta Believe".

In the bottom of the inning, with two on, Hodges singled home John Milner with the winning run. It is considered one of the key points to the 1973 pennant season & is known as “the ball off the wall” game.

Overall in 45 games Hodges hit .260 (33-145) with one HR two doubles eleven walks & 18 RBIs. Hodges was on the Mets' postseason roster in 1973 and played in one game of the World Series, drawing a walk in his only appearance. Hodges remained a backup catcher with the Mets for the next decade.

He was there from the 1973 Pennant, through the down years when Shea Stadium became known as "Grant’s tomb". Hodges was also there for the resurgence of the Mets in the mid eighties Dwight Gooden & Keith Hernandez’ squad. He averaged getting into 50 to 60 games a year each season; backing up main catchers Jerry Grote, Duffy Dyer, John Stearns, Alex Trevino & Mike Fitzgerald.

In 1974 Hodges was back on the club as a backup catcher. On April 28th his 8th inning two run HR broke up a tie game with the Giants in San Francisco and ended up being the game winner. In 59 games on the year Hodges hit .221 with 4 HRs 4 doubles & 14 RBIs. Behind the plate he had one of his worst years making 12 errors posting the lowest fielding % of his career (.959%) while only throwing out 20% of would be base stealers. He would never make double figures in errors again until the 1983 season.

In 1975 he spent most of the season at AAA Tidewater, playing in only nine games with the Mets. On September 20th, he hit a two run walk off HR against the Philadelphia Phillies Gene Garber & hit another HR the next day as well. 

In 1976 he had one of his best years, he started off the season well driving in six runs in seven games played in the month of April. In the eight game of the season he had three hits & drove in two runs in the Mets 17-1 debacle of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On April 26th his two run single off Atlanta's Dick Ruthven led the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Braves. He got a chance to play in 16 games in July and drove in 12 runs over that period, playing a solid defense as well. He hit HRs in back to back games in a series in Atlanta driving in five runs over the two games. He saw less playing time at the end of the season, finishing the year with 4 HRs & 24 RBIs batting .226 in 56 games.

He followed that up in 1977 batting .265 with a .992 fielding percentage in 66 games throwing out 34% of would be base stealers. He increased his percentage in throwing out base runners each season from then on, reaching a career high 43% by 1980.

On April 22nd 1978 Hodges helped New York win a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago with an 8th inning two run single off the Cubs Rick Reuschel. On the year he batted .255 with seven RBIs in 47 games.

In 1979 his average fell to a measly .163 in 59 games played. The next year he improved to .238 but did not hit a HR for the third straight season. In the 1981 strike season his HR drought was over when in the seventh game of the season he hit a HR against the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium in a 4-3 Mets loss.

In the short season he hit over .300 (43 at bats) driving in six runs in 35 games. That season he also had some success being used as a pinch hitter, getting five pinch hits in the month of September.

Drama: On a road trip to Montreal, he and Mets pitcher Dyar Miller were suspended without pay for three days by Mets' manager Joe Torre. The two were drinking in at the bar of the hotel where Mets coach Chuck Cottier, reminded them they were violating a club rule. There was to be no patronizing of a bar of in a hotel where the team was staying.

According to a statement issued by the team, the two players refused to leave the bar. Hodges said ''I guess a clean record doesn't count; I've never been involved in this kind of thing before. The more I think about it, the madder I get.''

In 1982 he had career highs in HRs (5) doubles (12) runs scored (26) & RBIs (27) playing in 80 games overall under new manager George Bamberger. Hodges had multi RBI games in each of the first three months. In early June he hit HRs in back to back games, as he also drove in three runs in the Mets 6-3 win at Cincinnati. On September 8th Hodges hit his only career grand slam, it came off the Pirates Grant Jackson in Pittsburgh.

In 1983 he saw the most playing time of his career behind the plate, seeing action in 96 games. He was finally the team’s main catcher after ten seasons, ahead of Junior Ortiz, Ron Reynolds & Mike Fitzgerald. In 110 games he hit .260, matched his career high 12 doubles, drew 49 walks posting a .358 on base percentage. He didn’t hit any HRs & only drove in 21 runs.

In 1984 Hodges was the back up catcher to Mike Fitzgerald as the Mets were now contending for first place for the first time in almost a decade. Hodges was thrilled to be back on a winning club where he started out.

On July 2nd Hodges was behind the plate catching the league's new phenom pitcher Dwight Gooden as he beat former Met Mike Scott 4-2 in a game at Shea Stadium. On July 12th he hit his last career HR helping New York to an 8-6 win over the Braves in Atlanta. On September 25th Hodges caught his last game, a 6-4 Mets win that began with Ron Darling on the mound getting relieved by Ed Lynch. On September 30th, the last game of the year, he made his last appearance as a pinch hitter in Montreal going hitless.

In his 12 year career Hodges played in 666 games, batting .240 with 342 hits 56 doubles two triples 19 HRs a .342 on base % 224 walks & 147 RBIs. He caught 445 behind the plate (6th most in Mets history) throwing out 31% of would be base stealers. He posted a .978 fielding % making 52 errors in 2358 chances.

Defensively he had 2095 putouts making 52 errors in 445 games (3326 innings) posting a .978 fielding percentage, throwing out 31% of base runners attempting to steal. Retirement: After baseball Hodges sold real estate in his home town of Rocky Mount, Virginia.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anybody know anything about Ron Hodges before his MLB days?
Family info maybe? College ? High school? Did he have any brothers and did they play baseball ?

Thanks

A fan

lanzarishi said...

I thought very highly of Ron Hodges. He was reliable and also seemed like a stand up type guy. Whenever he was called upon to come up or in he was there. Sometimes he came thru sometimes not but always seemed to give 100%. Not too much power but steady.