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Gil Hodges’ legacy finally earned him a ticket to Cooperstown

When character outweighs performance.

News: 1969 World Series NorthJersey.com-USA TODAY NETWOR

Last week the Veterans Committee elected Dodgers great and Amazin’ Mets’ skipper Gil Hodges into the Hall of Fame.

Hodges storied career included being an integral part of the Brooklyn Dodgers ‘Boys of Summer’ squad that included Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider. He left his mark in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles with the Dodgers move across the country, then returned to New York to manage the Mets in their early years.

A ‘baseball man’ through-and-through, Hodges served as skipper for the Washington Senators from 1963 to 1967 before taking on the managerial role with the six-year-old Mets in 1968. Despite finishing in last place in five of their first seven years (and second-to-last the other two years), Hodges led the Amazin’ Mets to 100 wins, and a World Series title in 1969.

Before we talk about Gil Hodges in a strictly analytical and numerical sense, we would be doing a disservice to not think about Hodges in the context of baseball history. Hodges had a storied career with the Dodgers both in Brooklyn and in Los Angeles, serving as the Dodgers everyday first baseman from 1948 to 1961. He was beloved both in New York and Los Angeles as a class-act, a kind man, and a reliable The Dodgers won six NL pennants.

As a reserve player, he was teammates with Jackie Robinson when Jackie broke the color barrier in 1947, and served as Robinson’s teammate through the entirety of Jackie’s 10-year MLB career. Hodges was an integral piece for the early-California Dodgers, when West Coast baseball moved from an idea to the Dodgers calling Chavez Ravine home, and as a manager, cemented his legacy with the Amazin’ Mets.

His presence leading the ‘69 Mets to a World Series championship make him a Mets’ legend in his own right, as no one expected that team to be competitive, nevermind win the Fall Classic. Hodges is credited with getting the most out of a team that defeated a heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles team.

From a numbers perspective, it’s not surprising that it took so long for Gil Hodges to be elected to the Hall of Fame despite his reputation. During his 11-year tenure in Brooklyn, Hodges earned his way to eight All Star games and garnered NL MVP votes six consecutive seasons. Despite these accolades, Hodges never finished in the top-five in MVP voting.

Hodges never led the league in any notable category, though he did amass 370 home runs over his 18 year career. His .273/.359/.487 slash line, and 120 OPS+ is certainly good, but it doesn’t scream worthiness for a Hall of Fame entrant, particularly a first base candidate.

Overall, Hodges amassed 43.9 bWAR compared to the average first base Hall of Famers 66.9. He was a strong everyday regular, but never had a peak where his contemporaries viewed him as the best at his position. Hodges on-field reputation was mostly that of nice complementary piece.

Hodges ranks 41st in career WAR among all first basemen, a similar number to Don Mattingly, and Mark Grace. Strictly from a numbers standpoint, it makes sense that hundreds of writers had previously decided he did not deserve the distinction of election.

From a managerial perspective, his peak was the highest-of-highs, taking an underdog into a classic franchise, however, overall his teams finished with a 660-753 record (a .467 winning percentage).

Hodges represents a unique case of election more on personality, place in baseball history, and overall reputation in light of numbers that really don’t support his election to the Hall of Fame. That said, his impact on the game is unquestioned, his sterling reputation as a teammate, leader, and man have helped get him over the hump, and it’s not a terrible thing when a man of character is elected even if the numbers are borderline.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano