The Dodgers family experienced something between a dose of good news and a relief-inducing exhale 50 years in the making on Sunday evening when legendary first baseman Gil Hodges was finally elected to Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame.
After years of his candidacy falling into relative obscurity, Hodges’ case finally leapt across its final hurdle on Sunday afternoon, removing an ignominious mark from his legacy; the slugger is no longer the only player to ever cross the 50-percent threshold on the writers’ Hall ballots without reaching induction.
He’d been close prior to his tragic death of a heart attack at age 47. He reached the 50 percent mark prior to that in 1971, hitting his high-water mark posthumously in 1983 at 63.4.
And yet at some point along the way, after his candidacy was handed off to the supposedly-kinder Veterans Committee, people began to view Hodges not as a Hall of Famer but as a close call. A near-miss. A “good, not great.” History’s perception has only been kind to him to a point.
Sunday’s result changed everything, as a 16-man committee came to an overwhelming 12-vote consensus on Hodges’ greatness, cementing his legacy and giving 94-year-old Vin Scully a reason to call 96-year-old Joan Hodges, Gil’s widow, in celebration — as if he needed one.
Though the Dodgers of the 1950s have always been well-represented in Cooperstown, this glaring omission has also always marked their narrative. As Scully noted on a broadcast several years ago, he spent years “hoping and praying” for the election of two final key Dodgers: owner Walter O’Malley, and Hodges. His prayers were answered in 2008, then again Sunday night — with Joan still alive to appreciate the bells and whistles, too.
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Hodges’ numbers objectively seem to place him among Cooperstown’s immortals. 370 homers. An .846 OPS. A career 120 OPS+ mark. Impressive offensive numbers all compiled inside cavernous Ebbets Field. Once his role in helming the Miracle Mets is taken into account, it’s hard to imagine how the baseball lifer’s (and we do mean that literally) credentials hadn’t previously merited inclusion.
Of course, that’s what makes the Hall of Fame so fickle. Baseball legacies are at the mercy of whims, bounces, and the proper committee members. The Hall’s also about stories, and who remains alive long enough to tell them. Pee Wee Reese and not Hodges? Bill Mazeroski and not Hodges? All three men have earned their moment in the sun, and yet, for quite a while, one was not honored, for no one asked the right questions.
It also doesn’t help that Hodges has not been around to advocate for himself or soak in the adulation for five decades.
After Sunday, though, Scully can officially lead the chorus of a generation of Brooklyn fans, now petering out but still spread across the borough, who’ve always known — who’ve spent their lives knowing with more and more clarity — that Hodges merits induction.
On a sun-blanched July weekend in 2022, he’ll finally earn a place among the immortals. Scully likely didn’t need the reminder, but now he won’t have to be alone in telling the story anymore. The books can do it for him, printed in ink.