The book: “Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life”
The author: Mort Zachter
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 478 pages, $34.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: They’re still praying for Gil Hodges. Harder and harder.
At this point – sadly, more than 40 years after the former Dodgers first baseman died of a heart attack at age 47 on Easter Sunday while he was managing the New York Mets and waiting for the 1972 players strike to end – there aren’t any more arguments left to pitch that he has rightfully earned a place in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
But that won’t stop even more of the filibusters on behalf.
Back in 1991, when Marino Amourus came out with “Gil Hodges: The Quiet Man,” USA Today called one of the top five sports books of the year. That led to a 2003 documentary and eventually a “commemorative edition” came out in 2012 that included a chapter about how some “politics” in the Hall were preventing Hodges’ vote from passing. Hodges’ widow, Joan, called “The Quiet Man” the “best book ever written about Gil …”
In 2006, “Praying For Gil Hodges,” a memoir by Thomas Oliphant that personalized Hodges’ career and put him back on the radar, became a New York Times bestseller.
It didn’t matter to Hall Veterans’ Committee voters. Hodges kept getting passed over.
The October 2013 entry, “Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, the Miracles Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend” by Tom Clavin and Danny Peary, definitely kept the conversation alive. They made a case that the reason Hodges isn’t in the Hall is because the Dodgers haven’t thought enough about him to retire his No. 14, holding onto a “backward” Catch -22 policy that only those who go into the Hall get their numbers retired (aside from Jim Gilliam). It’s a policy that current ownership could easily change.
(The Mets, by the way, retired Hodges’ same No. 14 in 1973. On the Dodgers, No. 14 was worn by 21 players since Hodges last had it in 1961. It was last worn by pitcher Dan Haren, and made popular by Mike Scioscia from 1980-92).
So here comes the latest Hodges for the Hall tome – this time, with a cover photo that emphasizes his Mets’ days as the pondering skipper. The subtitle doesn’t hide the author’s intent, as Zachter, a CPA, tax attorney and adjunct tax professor at NYU, has admitted that Hodges was his childhood hero.
If you’re willing to pour through the highs and lows of Hodges’ life again based on Zachter’s exhaustive research – the small-type print ends on page 356, but the epilogue, afterward, acknowledgments, notes, bibliography and index add another 120-plus pages – have at it.
There is at least one fresh tale we hadn’t seen before, of the time when Hodges failed to report to spring training in 1950 because his wife was expecting their first child in Brooklyn. Before a Vero Beach exhibition game, manager Burt Shotton told Vin Scully, then the new 22-year-old rookie radio broadcaster, to suit up and shag fly balls. Scully ended up wearing Hodges’ uniform.
“I was 140 pounds,” Scully said during a 2012 interview that is included here. “Gil was a marble statue. I put his uniform on and ‘Dodgers’ comes down to my belly.”
As Scully heads to the clubhouse afterward, some kids were begging him for an autograph.
“I’m telling them,’ I’m not Gil,’ but these two kids stay with me the whole way and I’m thinking, ‘What a sweet guy Gil is and these kids are going to think Hodges won’t sign for them.’ So I signed Gil’s name, remembering he made a little circle about the ‘i’ in Gil. …
“I’m embarrassed to say it but if those kids are still living, they think they have Hodges’ autograph.”
Scully would be the first to sign-off on a Hodges’ Hall induction if he felt he had any clout — which he does, but may not be willing to use it. The far more intriguing chapter in this book circles around to the research that Zachter has in trying to explain why Hodges has been passed over, which includes what he called an “overaggressive campaign by others after his death.”
Is the issue that Hodges’ combination of achievements as a player and and a manager combined plenty good for his cause, but too many insist they separate the two and then can’t make a strong enough case for either? Zachter loves to point out that Hodges continues to be the answer to a trivia question: Who hit the most career home runs of any manager that has also won a World Series.
Was Hodges’ reserved dealing with the media as a manager the reason why he has put off voters, starting with the late Red Smith?
Is the consensus that the Dodgers teams Hodges played on have “enough” Hall of Famers already?
“Unlike most, Hodges took a low profile regarding his own candidacy; I couldn’t find a single quote from Hodges regarding his chances for induction,” writes Zachter. “Based on comments he made when Mickey Mantle retired, Hodges viewed Cooperstown as a place for the game’s all-time greats (such as Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle) and didn’t view himself on that level.”
In a very subtle way, Zachter points out in his epilogue that almost everyone who played with or against Hodges, knew him well, or played for him, have passed away. There are only those like Zachter left to reopen this cold case – a task that becomes inciting after watching how someone like Bert Blyleven has now been voted in based on recent personal crusades by stat men re-evaluating careers.
Over on page 29 of Zachter’s book, an impressive photo retrieved from the Brooklyn Public Library shows Hodges simple holding up his hands. From the tip of his thumb to the tip of his pinkie finger, they’re each 12 inches across.
You’ve got to hand it to all those who continue to try to get Hodges a Cooperstown golden ticket. Maybe his wife will be around long enough to see it happen. But until then, she’s got a nice stack of books on hand about her husband that the right people aren’t reading.
More to know:
== A Q-and-A with author Zachter by David Davis for LAObserved
== A petition at ipetitions.com continues to lobby for Hodges’ Hall induction.
== From the 2012 Palm Beach Post by Gil Hodges Jr.: “To me, in all honesty, it’s really beyond irrelevant (he’s not in the Hall). Everybody treats him like he is in the Hall.”