Gil Hodges

Known as the “Miracle Worker” when he piloted the 1969 Mets to the World Championship, Hodges was a slugging, eight-time All-Star first baseman. A dead-pull hitter who always looked for the inside pitch, Hodges was a model of consistency, collecting over 100 RBI for seven consecutive years (1949-55) and hitting 20 or more HR 11 straight seasons (1949-59). His lifetime 14 grand slams established the NL mark, since eclipsed by Willie McCovey (18) and Hank Aaron (16).

Hodges was nineteen when he played third base for one game with the Dodgers in late 1943. He struck out twice and walked, then joined the Marines. He returned in 1947 as a catcher, but with the emergence of Roy Campanella, he was moved to first base. Manager Leo Durocher said, “With my catching set, I put a first baseman’s glove on our other rookie catcher, Gil Hodges, and told him to have some fun. Three days later, I looked up and, wow, I was looking at the best first baseman I’d seen since Dolf Camilli.”

Hodges was the Dodgers’ Lou Gehrig – big, strong, and gentle. The three-time Gold Glove winner played first base gracefully. His hands were so large that teammates joked he didn’t even need a glove. His quick footwork provoked the allegation that he rarely had his foot on the bag for his putouts.

On August 31, 1950 against the Braves, Hodges hit four homers. His 40 HR in 1951 were second only to Ralph Kiner‘s 42, but he struck out a league-high 99 times. He reached career highs in 1954, hitting .304 with 42 HR and 130 RBI (second to Ted Kluszewski‘s 49 and 141). During the 1952 WS loss to the Yankees, Hodges went a dreadful 0-for-21, and prayers were said for the beloved Dodger in churches all across Brooklyn. In the following year’s Series he hit .364. Hodges homered in each of his last four World Series, his shots winning 1956’s Game One and 1959’s Game Four for the Dodgers.

Ending his playing career with the Mets, Hodges hit the first homer in their history, on April 11, 1962 at St. Louis. Though he began 1963 with the Mets, he was sent to Washington for Jimmy Piersall, and took over as manager of the struggling Senators, who were 14-26 under Mickey Vernon. In five seasons, the best Hodges could do was a sixth-place finish in 1967.

Hodges was traded back to the Mets as manager in exchange for pitcher Bill Denehy and cash. His 1968 club finished ninth, but the following season, Hodges took the Mets to the pennant, skillfully platooning at five positions. The Mets swept the Braves in the LCS, then took the WS from Baltimore in five games. Hodges managed the Mets to two third-place finishes in 1970 and ’71. He died suddenly of a heart attack after a spring training golf game on April 2, 1972, two days before his 48th birthday. The Mets retired his number 14.