Apr 3, 2020

Legendary Mets Player & Manager: Gil Hodges -The Mets Years

Gilbert Raymond Hodges was born April 4th 1924 in Princeton, Indiana. Hodges played 18 seasons in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-1957) Los Angeles Dodgers (1958-1961) & New York Mets (1962-1963). 

Mets Playing Career (1962-1963): In 1962 he returned to New York after being chosen in the expansion draft, as an original 1962 New York Met. He wanted to retire due to a serious knee problem but was persuaded to finish his playing career in New York.

Hodges batted sixth & played first base in the first game in New York Mets history on April 11th 1962 in St. Louis. After flying out in the second inning, he made made Mets history hitting the first Mets franchise HR. It came leading off the 4th inning, off the Cards pitcher Larry Jackson.

On April 22nd & 23rd, Hodges would have a pair of two hit games in Pittsburgh finishing the month of April batting .316 playing eight games.

Things started off slow in May, but On May 12th in the second game of a historic Mets double header, he hit a walk off HR off Hank Fischer to beat the Milwaukee Braves. In the first game, the Mets Hobie Landrith had hit a two run walk off HR, the first in Mets history. On the day Hodges collected four hits as well.

On May 30th, in a double header against his old Dodger teammates at the Polo Grounds, Hodges hit a HR off Sandy Koufax in the first game. He returned to play the next game as well. He hit two more HRs, both off Johnny Podres giving the new Met fans a big thrill, although the Mets did lose both ends of the twin bill.

He hit just one more HR that year, coming in July. Knee injuries limited Hodges season to only 54 games that year, with the exception of three games at the end of September, his season was over by early July. He finished the year batting .252 with 32 hits 9 HRs one double 17 RBIs & a .331 on base %.

In 1963 he attempted to play again but age & injuries had gotten the best of him. He played in just 11 games, and on May 5th he played his last game. He took first base at the Polo Grounds getting a hit & an RBI against his old rivals, the Giants who were now the San Francisco Giants.

A deal was worked out, where was traded to the Washington Senators with the intention that he would become that teams manager, replacing Mickey Vernon. In return the Mets received outfielder Jimmy Piersall.

In his 18 year playing career Hodges made eight All Star appearances & won three Gold Gloves posting a .993 fielding %.

He won seven NL pennants & played in seven World Series, winning two Worlds Championships, one in Brooklyn & one in Los Angeles.

He hit 370 career HRs (78th most all time) He was tenth on the all time list when he retired & second among right hand hitters. He hit 310 HRs in the 1950's second to team mate Duke Snider. He also hit 14 career grand slams  (tied for 11th all time) & was the NL All Time leader in that category at the time of his retirement.

He drove in the second most runs of the 1950's as well, second to team mate Duke Snider. In his career he had 1274 RBIs (125th all time).

Hodges batted .273 with 1921 hits, he had 1105 runs scored (246th all time) with 295 doubles. He had 943 walks (146th all time) 713 extra base hits (175th all time) 63 stolen bases, 1137 strikeouts (208rd all time) in 2071 games (205th all time). He also posted a .487 slugging average (157th all time)

On the field He ranked second in NL history with 1281 assists (now 25th) and 1614 double plays (13th all time) when his career ended. He posted a .993 fielding % with 15722 put outs (38th all time) in 1908 games as a first baseman (27th all time) making 126 errors (81st all time).

Why Not the Hall of Fame? Year after year the veterans comitte has denied Hodges induction into the Hall of Fame. His stats are better than so many players elected & he has had a sucessful managerial career as well.

Managing Career: Hodges took over as manager of the Washington Senators in May of 1963. Mickey Vernon had began the year as manager & then future Mets coach Eddie Yost took the helm for one game, until Hodges arrived. The team would finish 10th in the American League going 56-106 on the season.

The team improved each season going from 10th place (1963) to an eventual sixth place finish in 1967 but never had a winning record. Hodges got the most of what he could with what he had.

In 1965 pitcher Ryne Duren hit rock bottom, he walked onto a bridge with intentions to commit suicide. His manager, Hodges talked him away from the edge of the bridge to safety, saving his life.

Mets Managing Career 1968-1972: On November 27, 1967 Hodges came back to New York in a yet another wacky trade with Washington, this one for Bill Denehy and $100,000. He came on to manage the Mets in 1968 and spent most of the season just observing what he had to work with.

On September 24th he suffered a mild heart attack while in Atlanta. A combination of stress & smoking were key contributors. At the end of the 1968 season it was questionable if he could return in 1969.

He brought the Mets to a 73-89 record in 1968, which was their best mark in their seven-year existence. Gil was known for his strict style of managing and not accepting anything but 100% from his players. He always believed in his team and stood behind them. He was a superior leader.

He refused to act surprised by the 1969 Mets as they kept winning and moving forward, telling the press the team was doing what they were capable of doing playing up to their potential. No miracles in his eyes.

It was through his confidence that made the Mets team believe in what they were doing. He was one of the first managers to use a pitching coach who was not a former pitcher, but a former catcher, with his former Brooklyn teammate Rube Walker.

Hodges also used a strict platoon system for many of his position players, regardless of the circumstances. He got the most of his players by using their best abilities to contribute to the team as a whole.

If a pitcher threw at his players he didn’t feel it was a pitchers job to throw back at an opposing player. He felt “you lay a bunt toward the first base line and when the pitcher comes for it you run right over him.

In Spring Training 1969 at St. Petersburg Florida he shocked the press when he predicted the team would win 85 games. His team was led by the games best pitcher, Tom Seaver who would win the Cy Young Award.

He had one of the leagues best lefthanders in Jerry Koosman, a young fireballer named Nolan Ryan & a solid hard throwing rookie Gary Gentry all in the starting rotation. He had a strong bullpen with Ron Taylor & Tug McGraw both as quality closers.

 He demanded a solid defense & had the best fielding short stop in the league as well as one of the best defensive catchers in the game as well. He used platoons at most other positions and had one of the leagues best hitters for 1969 in Cleon Jones. Tommie Agee was a fantastic centerfielder & lead off man & when Don Clendenon arrived in July he had a true slugger.

He was a strict disciplinarian who ran a tight ship & demanded respect. In a game on July 30th Hodges reached one of his biggest boiling points of his career as a manager. The Mets had lost the first game of a double header 16-3 and just got pounded for another ten runs in the second game.

During the night cap, Cleon Jones didn’t hustle on a ball that was hit to him on the wet outfield grass. Hodges walked from the dugout toward the pitcher’s mound everyone expecting a pitching change.

But he walked past the pitcher’s mound & into left field & exchanged words with Cleon Jones. Then he started walking back to the dugout, with Jones walking a few feet behind him, removed from the game.

In 1969, he led the "Miracle Mets" to a 100 victory season, 27 games better than 1968 & 15 games better than his prediction. After clinching the first N.L. Eastern title he went on to sweep the Atlanta Braves in the first ever NLCS playoff series.

In the World Series his team beat the mighty Baltimore Orioles who were heavily favored, finishing them off in five games. He stuck with his strict platoon system throughout the Series and his young starting pitching staff. Hodges pulled off a great move to kick start his team in the final fifth game at Shea Stadium.

In the sixth inning of Game #5 Cleon Jones had a pitch bounce near his foot. The ball rolled into the Mets dugout. Hodges soon popped out of the dugout with a ball covered with a smudge of show polish.

He showed it to home plate umpire Lou Dimuro as proof the ball hit Jone’s foot. The umpire agrees & Jones was awarded first base, the next batter Don Clendenon, then hit a two run HR putting the Mets on the board, within a run 3-2. The Mets went on to win the game & the World Series.

Hodges posted a 7-1 post season record as manager. It was the first time the Mets finished above ninth place, becoming the first expansion team to win a World Series. Hodges was named The Sporting News' Manager of the Year. The 1969 Mets would forever be known as the Amazing Mets & when any team goes from underdog to champions they are compared to the ’69 Amazings.

After the Miracle Hodges 1970 Mets finished 83-79 six games back, in third place. Although the team was in second place most of the season they were always in contention.

They had tied for a first place a few times during the year, and as late as September 9th were in a tie for first place. In 1971 the Mets were in first place for much of April & May, falling to second place in early July 4 ½ games back. This year they faded from the All Star break on, finishing with the same 83-79 record 14 games back of the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, in third place.

Passing: Gil Hodges passed away from a sudden heart attack in 1972. (see tomorrow's posting on 4/4)

Honors: Every player on the 1969 Mets World Championship team credits their success personally & professionally to Gil Hodges. They have the utmost respect for him as a manger & as a human being. Gil Hodges was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1982. His uniform #14 was officially retired in 1973. He is honored with am entrance way named after him at Citi Field as well.  

In 1978 the Marine Parkway Bridge, connecting the Marine Park area of Brooklyn with the Rockaway’s in Queens, was renamed the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Bridge in his memory. Also a park on Carroll Street and a Little League field on MacDonald Avenue in Brooklyn, are named in his honor.

In his birth town of Princeton Indiana, the high school baseball stadium, as well as a bridge spanning the East Fork of the White River in northern Pike County, Indiana on State Road 57, are also named in his honor.

But of all the honors & praises he receives, the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown has never elected him to their hallowed halls.

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