Gil Hodges - Hall of Famer?
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
December 28, 2005
Tom Oliphant recently wrote a book entitled Praying for Gil Hodges, which have I have not read, but based on a few reviews has more to do with waxing sentimental about an era gone by, etc. etc. etc. The sub-heading indicates as much - A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family's Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This sort of treatment of the baseball of yesteryear, and particularly the long passed Brooklyn Dodgers, tends to run along these lines. Other book titles include - Brooklyn Remembered: The 1955 Days of the Dodgers, by Bob Costas; The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field And The Story Of The Brooklyn Dodgers, by Bob McGee; What I Learned From Jackie Robinson, by Carl Erskine; Beyond the Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn; and The Brooklyn Dodgers - The Original America's Team.
I bring up the new Oliphant book because it has often been argued, to me, that Gil Hodges belongs in the Hall of Fame. In fact, it has been argued to me repeatedly, and so often it is asserted that Hodges' leadership, what he meant to the city of Brooklyn, and the job he did as manager of the Mets all indicate what a great player he was. In reality, the Baseball Evolution crew has visited this issue with respect to our Top 100 in the past, and it led to our decision to try to put together the Top 200 of all time
. Although Hodges will probably not end up in any of our Top 200s, whether or not he should be a Hall of Famer is a different question altogether, since there is no number limit on the Hall. So, we consider the merits and attempt to answer the question – does Gil Hodges belong in the Hall of Fame.
At the outset, we note that Gil Hodges debuted with the Dodgers in 1943. However, he served in Marine ROTC in college, and was forced into service in World War II. He served from 1943 until his discharge in 1946. He returned to the Dodgers in 1946.
What amount of playing time he missed as a result of the War is clouded by the fact that he only played one game, at the age of 19, before leaving, and in his first season back, he played in only 28 games with the big club when he returned to action in 1947. Unlike Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, etc., who missed seasons in their prime, Hodges missed seasons at the beginning of his career – it is entirely possible that he would not have become a regular with the Dodgers until 1948 at the age of 24 even if he had not gone to war.
Hodges played 18 seasons, but four of those seasons were partials, in which he played less than 100 games (1943, 1947, 1962, 1963) and two others, 1960-61, were seasons in which he played 101 and 109 games, respectively. Thus, his first full season was 1948, at the age of 24, and his last was 1959, at the age of 35. He enjoyed 12 full seasons of play.
Hodges career spanned the Dodgers longest run of success – from 1948 to 1959, won 6 pennants and two World Series, finishing second three times, third twice, and 7th once. Hodges played on some great teams, but he was a worthy contributor, driving in 100 RBI 7 years in a row and scoring 100 or more runs three times. For his career, he hit 370 HR with 1274 RBI, scored 1105 runs, and finished with a .273 average.
The most obvious element of Hodges career stats are his homeruns. He hit 40 or more twice, 30 or more 6 times, including 5 years in a row (1950-1954), and 20 or more 11 times. He finished with 370 career dingers, which is good for 60th of all time. The infamous 370 home run mark by no means historically guarantees entry into the Hall of Fame, as similar players not in the Hall of Fame include Norm Cash (377), Matt Williams (378), Rocky Colavito (374), and Gary Gaetti (360). However, there are several players in Mr. Hodges' neighborhood who are in the Hall of Fame, including Tony Perez (379), Orlando Cepeda (379), Carlton Fisk (376), Ralph Kiner (369), Joe DiMaggio (361), Johnny Mize (359), and Yogi Berra (358).
Berra, Mize, DiMaggio, Kiner, and Fisk all have career credentials which make them clear Hall of Fame choices, but in Cepeda and Perez, we have a pairing right on point with Hodges. All three players were first baseman, and Cepeda and Perez were each chosen by the Veterans Committee.
Looking at Cepeda, Perez, and Hodges, we see that there may be somewhat compelling arguments for Hodges' entry into the Hall.
Cepeda's career was unique, compared with Hodges and Perez, in that he peaked very early, enjoying his best seasons in 1961 and 1962, at the age of 23 and 24. By the age of 26, Cepeda had hit 221 homeruns, hit over .300 six times in seven years (and .297 in the other), and finished with an OPS of .840 or higher seven straight years. However, he managed only 33 games in 1965, at the age of 27, and enjoyed only two more seasons of the caliber of his first seven. At 33 and 34, he played only 102 games in two seasons, and then enjoyed one more full season at the age of 35 before retiring at 36. If not for the later years of his career, Cepeda would have finished with an average over .300 and a slugging over .500; Cepeda enjoyed better upside and better dominant seasons than either Perez or Hodges. Notably, Cepeda struck out twice as much as he walked (588 vs. 1169).
Which is not to say that Perez did not enjoy an interesting career. Perez was far more consistent than Cepeda, at one stretch finishing with 90 or more RBI eleven straight years. He did not miss significant time due to injury from 1967, at the age of 25, until 1981, at the age of 39. However, after 1981, Perez hung on for 5 more seasons, never once playing more than 91 games or batting more than 253 times. Playing part time for the last six years of his career, Perez hit 31 more homeruns. His career was effectively over after the 1980 season, at the age of 38. Like Cepeda, Perez struck out twice as much as he walked (1867 vs. 925), but Perez played 650 more games than Cepeda, and 700 more than Hodges. Because of this, Perez beats Hodges and Cepeda in career hits, doubles, RBI, and runs scored. However, his OPS is about 50 points below both Cepeda and Hodges, and his ERA+ is essentially the same as Hodges'.
For those to whom post-season success is a relevant factor (and I am not one of these people), Perez went to five World Series, winning two of them; Cepeda went to three World Series, winning one of them; and Hodges went to seven World Series, winning two.
For those to whom defense is important, and at first base defense doesn't tend to be particularly important or divisive, Hodges won the three Gold Gloves, despite the fact that the award was invented in his tenth full season in the league. Tony Perez won no gold gloves, nor did Cepeda. Taking a closer look (because gold glove voting is dubious), Orlando Cepeda remarkably managed to have exactly the league average fielding percentage in his career, while besting the league average range factor 9.19 vs. 8.48; Perez bested the league fielding percentage by .001 point, but beat the league average range factor by only 8.67 to 8.45; Hodges manage to best the league fielding percentage by .002, but fell under the league average range factor 8.71 vs. 8.84.
From a more subjective reference frame, I find myself wondering – which player was more important to his team. If one player was his team's star, while the other was a supporting player, this may play a factor in the analysis. Hodges played on those great Dodgers teams of the 1950s, Perez on the great Reds teams of the 1970s, and Cepeda on the great Giants teams of the early 1960s, and the Cardinals of the late 1960s.
Gil Hodges played his first full season with the Dodgers in 1948. This was one season after Jackie Robinson played his first full year, and one year before Duke Snider would play his first full season. Both Robinson and Snider are Hall of Famers. In 72 more career games, Snider bested Hodges in every offensive category except BB/K ratio. A career .295 hitter, Snider has a remarkable .919 career OPS and a 140 OPS+, compared with .273, .846, and 120.
Jackie Robinson won the Rookie of the Year in 1947 as a first baseman, but moved to second base when Hodges emerged in 1948. Robinson debuted at the age of 28, played until the age of 37, and was a superior player to Hodges.
In addition to Robinson and Snider, the Dodgers also featured Roy Campanella, who like Robinson debuted late as a result of the color barrier, and who finished early at the age of 35 after being involved in a car accident. Campanella had some excellent years in which he was superior to Hodges (1951, 1953, 1955) and some bad seasons in which he wasn't quite up to par with Hodges (1952, 1954, 1956). Also starring for the Dodgers were Carl Furillo, Jim Gilliam, and Pee Wee Reese, all excellent players who were not up to par with Gil Hodges. Interestingly, Reese is in the Hall of Fame.
If Hodges was the third best player on his team, the same can not be said for Tony Perez. Perez, of course, was a member of the Big Red Machine, a team which featured no fewer than two players who are arguably the best of all time at their positions – Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan – the all time leader in career hits – Pete Rose – and a host of others. Although it is not true, there is no shortage of people who would argue that Dave Concepcion is the greatest shortstop of all time, but this is based on defense. During the course of their time together on the Reds, George Foster probably edges out Tony Perez, meaning Perez was probably no better than the fourth best player on the Reds after Bench, Morgan, and Rose, and was probably fifth during the Foster years.
Cepeda's years of dominance with the Giants were 1958 to 1964. In those years, the Giants won only one division title, while finishing third or better every other year. In those years, and before and after, the Giants best player was Willie Mays. Even in Cepeda's best years, Mays was better. However, Cepeda was solidly the second best player on the team, as Willie McCovey had not yet emerged. Cepeda would absolutely be the best player on the Cardinals teams in the later years, serving as the offensive anchor on the World Series teams in 1967 and 1968. But after joining the Braves, Cepeda would be about third behind Hank Aaron and Rico Carty (in case you never have, check out Carty's 1970 season. Amazing!).
Interestingly, despite their disparate career at-bat totals, Hodges Perez and Cepeda each finished within 9 homeruns of each other for their career. Lest we assume this can be explained away by era differences, we look a bit further to determine how each player rated compared with their league.
Perez finished in the top ten in home runs 6 times, peaking at third in 1970 with 40. Cepeda finished in the top ten 9 times, leading the league in 1961 with 46. Hodges finished in the top ten 10 times, finishing second twice and third twice. From this it may be determined, at least subjectively, that Hodges probably doesn't quite match up with Cepeda, but probably distances himself from Perez.
From this analysis, I think it would be safe to conclude that Hodges was probably a bit better than Perez, but didn't play as long, while he played just as long as Cepeda but wasn't quite as good. If this places Hodges in between Perez and Cepeda, both of whom are in the Hall, then what does that tell us.
There is certainly no rule that Hodges need only be compared with Perez and Cepeda to determine whether he should be in the Hall of Fame or not. For example, Hodges does not compare favorably to Don Mattingly, who has a career ERA+ higher than Hodges (127 to 120), hit 34 points higher (.307 to .273) and a much better BB/K ration, actually walking more than he struck out. Additionally, Mattingly was the best player on his team for several years (1984-1987, 1989), and won the 1985 MVP. In 27 fewer at-bats, he hit fewer homeruns than Hodges and accounted for fewer runs created, but had more hits, doubles, and intentional walks. Even assuming arguendo that Hodges was as good as Mattingly (which he may have been), I am certain that Mattingly does not belong in the Hall.
In my first baseman Top 100 lists, I consider the following first basemen:
Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, George Sisler, Johnny Mize, Mark Grace, Jim Bottomley, John Olerud, Jeff Bagwell, Don Mattingly, Phil Cavaretta, Keith Hernandez, Jake Daubert, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Mickey Vernon, Kent Hrbek, Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, Norm Cash, Mark McGwire, Gil Hodges, Fred McGriff, Harmon Killebrew, Dick Allen, Cecil Cooper, Orlando Cepeda, Boog Powell, Steve Garvey, Chris Chambliss, Joe Adcock, Tony Perez, Andres Galarraga, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, and Jack Fournier.
- Gerhig, Foxx, Mize, McCovey, Murray, and Killebrew are in the Hall of Fame and are clearly superior to Hodges.
- Bagwell, McGwire, Palmeiro, Thomas, Thome, and McGriff will all be (or should be) in the Hall of Fame, and are clearly superior to Hodges.
- Jim Bottomley and George Sisler are Hall of Famers that are almost certainly better than Hodges, though their respective eras cloud the issue a little.
This is the point where we eliminate the players who are not up to par with Hodges – Phil Cavaretta, Chris Chambliss, Jake Daubert, Mickey Vernon and Steve Garvey are probably not as good as Hodges. But, fact is, after eliminating those five, this is not as simple as it seems.
Mattingly, Perez, and Cepeda we have already discussed. Dick Allen, despite the shortness of his career, and his inability to get along, had an outstanding 156 OPS+ (Hodge's is 120), won the Rookie of the Year and an MVP, perennially ranked in the Top Ten in homeruns, and led the league twice. Allen is not in the Hall of Fame. Jack Fournier is a similar situation – his 142 OPS+ indicate his greatness, though he only played 1500 games, about 5200 at-bats, in part because of World War I.
Andres Galarraga played longer than Hodges. He hit more homeruns, had more RBIs, a higher batting average, more doubles, and more dominant seasons than Hodges. Galarraga enjoyed three of his best four years in Colorado, which counts against him, and his OPS+ is one point lower than Hodges. It should also be noted that Galarraga struck out over 2000 times, about four times as many as he walked, but also that he missed a season because of cancer. Galarraga is probably on par with Hodges, and no one thinks Galarraga is a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.
Boog Powell has a 134 OPS+, went to four World Series and won three of them, won an AL MVP in 1970, had about 350 fewer at-bats but similar career numbers adjusted for era, and a better BB/K. At best, Powell and Hodges are equal, and Powell is not in the Hall of Fame.
Keith Hernandez is generally regarded as one of the greatest defensive first basemen ever, having won 11 gold gloves. He also won an MVP in 1979, two World Series (1982, 1986) and won the 1979 batting title. He walked more than he struck out, finished with a career average of .296, and despite hitting significantly fewer homeruns than Hodges, has an OPS+ of 129. Hernandez has not made the Hall of Fame.
Norm Cash finished, in 300 fewer at-bats, with 7 more homeruns than Hodges, had a higher OPS and an OPS+ of 139. Not in the Hall of Fame.
Mark Grace finished with an OPS+ one point lower than Hodges, while getting way more hits, hitting for a better average (.303) striking out 400 times less than he walked, and scoring and driving in about as many runs as Hodges despite hitting less than half of the homeruns. Grace also led the 1990s in hits, own four gold gloves, and won a World Series with the Diamondbacks. No one is close to arguing Grace deserves to be in the Hall.
Will Clark was probably superior to Gil Hodges. He batted about as many times, gathered more hits, more extra-base hits, a .303 average, and a fantastic 138 OPS+. Clark finished with a fantastic range factor, 9.52 vs. 8.27 league average, and a league average fielding percentage. Assuming, for argument's sake, that Clark was merely as good as Hodges, we noted that Clark is in no danger of joining the Hall of Fame.
Joe Adcock rarely played a full season, but put up similar power numbers to Hodges. He finished with 400 fewer at-bats and 34 fewer home runs than Hodges. He also finished with a 123 OPS+, 3 points higher than Hodges. There can be little doubt that Hodges was better than Adcock, but they are very similar, and Adcock is totally not a Hall of Famer.
Cecil Cooper and John Olerud were similar players set apart by different eras. Cooper hit .298, while Olerud hit .295. Cooper finished with a 121 OPS+, while Olerud had a 129 OPS+. Olerud finished with 255 homeruns and 500 doubles, while Cooper had 241 homeruns and 415 doubles. Each has over 2000 hits, 1000 runs, and 1100 RBIs. Both were good hitters with a slight amount of power. Both played in two World Series, and Olerud won three gold gloves while Cooper won two. Both were somewhere around the caliber of Gil Hodges, and neither has even a remote shot of making the Hall of Fame.
Which brings us to Kent Hrbek. Kent Hrbek of the 1981-1994 Minnesota Twins. Hrbek's career began and ended during strike seasons. He was regularly the second or third best player on his team, behind Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Gary Gaetti, and Tom Brunansky, in different years. Hrbek was on two World Series winning teams, 1987 and 1991. He generally struck out less than he walked, 798 vs. 838, had a career average of .282, and finished his career with a 127 OPS+. He batted about 1000 times fewer than Hodges, finished with fewer runs and RBIs, and never won a gold glove. He finished with more doubles than Hodges, and a range factor and fielding percentage significantly better than league average (.002, .76). So, you tell me – who was better? Hodges, or Hrbek?
Fact is, I don't know who was better. I think it was Hodges, but a good argument can be made that Hrbek is at least even. And the whole point boils down to this: When I am trying to determine whether a player belongs in the Hall of Fame, and in the end I find myself trying to determine whether that player was better than or worse than Kent Hrbek, chances are I am not going to decide that the player belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Anyone who wants to argue that Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame should point immediately to the several players in the Hall who have inferior qualifications to Hodges – Pee Wee Reese, Lloyd Waner, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski, and Luis Aparicio come to mind as possibilities. But if Hodges should be in, there are probably 10 first basemen who should also be. Hodges is not alone in possibly deserving to be in the Hall of Fame, and his folk hero/Brooklyn icon status should not obscure this fact.