When authors Tom Clavin and Danny Peary combined their resources to launch a 2010 book entitled: “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero,” there was an intentional undercurrent to the narrative.
Coming up on the 50th year anniversary of the New York Yankee slugger breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, only to see it shattered by enhanced sluggers like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, Maris deserved renewed induction consideration by those voters in charge of Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Clavin and Peary made clear.
The same holistic intent can easily be read into the author’s follow up baseball bio, “Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend” (New American Library, $26.95, 403 pages).
It’s a question Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcast Vin Scully brings up every time the vote comes around — Doesn’t Hodges deserve a plaque along with Dodgers of his era like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella?
Hodges as so far been by passed by the regular Hall voters from 1969 to ’83, then by the Veterans Committee ever since, starting in 1984.
Hodges’ latest miss on getting voted in came last December, when it was announced that the 16 member committee voting on 10 finalists who played in “The Golden Era” of 1947-’72, got Hodges into the final group, but only the Chicago Cubs’ Ron Santo gained induction this past July.
The next time Hodges could come up for re-election is in 2014.
That gives Clavin and Peary more time to lobby, and Chapter 29 of their book is devoted almost solely to making the argument on Hodges’ behalf. It even cites a time in 1959 when Hodges, four years shy of retiring, competed against Willie Mays in the campy “Home Run Derby” TV show filmed at L.A.’s Wrigley Field, just more than a year after the Dodgers moved here from Brooklyn. They note that at the time, host Mark Scott (referred to in the book as “Mark Frost”) said to Mays at one point: “Baseball’s Hall of Fame has got a spot reserved for both you and Gil.”
Why not? From 1949 to ’59, Hodges averaged 30 homers and 101 RBIs, tying an NL record with 11 straight 20 homer seasons, to go with three Gold Gloves and helping the Dodgers win seven NL pennants and two World Series.
One of the arguments made by the authors on page 374 centers on an on-going debate about why the franchise waits to retire numbers until after someone is voted into the Hall. Meaning, Hodges’ No. 14 is not among those honored along the roof of the left and right-field pavilion:
“If the writers and veterans have an excuse for their faulty voting over the years in regard to Hodges, it is that the Los Angeles Dodgers have never retired his number. The Mets did so, but not the organization he belonged to for 20 years. The Dodgers’ backward policy, even during the years of Walter O’Malley and then his son Peter O’Malley ran the team, was to retire uniform numbers only after a player had been voted into Cooperstown.
“Essentially, they continue to outsource the Hodges vote to younger sportswriters who never saw him play. The Dodgers did break their policy and retired Jim Gilliam’s number. Their choosing Gilliam, who was popular for years as a player and coach in Los Angeles, and not Hodges deserves an explanation that has never been given.
“Meanwhile, Hall of Fame voters have been able to say: If the Dodgers don’t even consider Hodges for their Hall of Fame, there’s no reason I should consider him for ours.”
Is that a policy that could change with the new ownership group?
The last paragraph of the Clavin-Peary argument is clear: “When he finally becomes a Hall of Famer, (Gil Hodges’ widow, Joan) realizes, countless fans will learn about the man who remains, with Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, baseball’s ultimate role model. Then they surely will benefit from discovering the right way he played, managed and lived his life.”
UPDATE: A response from Howard Cole on his blog, ColeOnLA.com (linked here).
More books done recently on Hodges:
== “Praying for Gil Hodges: A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family’s Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers, by Thomas Oliphant in 2006 (linked here, with essentially the same book cover photo).
== “Gil Hodges: The Quiet Man,” by Marino Amoruso with Pee Wee Reese in 1991 (linked here).
== “Gil Hodges: Baseball Miracle Man,” by John Devaney in 1973 (linked here)
== “The Gil Hodges Story,” by Milton Shapiro in 1960 (linked here).