One of the greatest injustices in baseball has been righted this year, as legendary first baseman Gil Hodges has been voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Hodges, who died in 1972, has been honored multiple times this year, as the Dodgers retired his #14 jersey and he was the focus of an award nominated documentary from Spirit Juice Studios.
Hodges was one of those rare sports personalities whose influence has spanned generations of athletes. On the field he was known as a well-rounded player who put up spectacular stats by mid-20th-century standards. According to Baseball Reference, Hodges retired with 370 home runs, 1274 RBIs, 1105 runs, and 1931 hits, averaging .273 over the course of 2971 games played.
These above average stats, however, are exceeded by the intangible value that Hodges brought to every team he ever played with. He was the “clutch” player before the term meant what it means today, and this model sportsman made an impact both on and off the field.
Spirit Juice Studios’ documentary, The Gil Hodges Story: Soul of a Champion, highlights the character of this impressive baseball personality, who prized his faith above all else. In interviews, old-time baseball figures like Tommy Lasorta, Vin Scully, Carol Erskine, Ron Swoboda, and Cleon Jones remember Hodges as a magnetic personality and a “gentle giant,” who would often resolve altercations on the field with just a glare.
His Catholic faith was another focus of the documentary. Hodges, who was a Knight of Columbus, was said to have never missed Mass, even when on the road. He would often be seen praying his rosary before a game, and the interviews recall an instance when he chose to go hungry on a plane flight rather than eat meat on a Friday.
Hodges abruptly left baseball for a time during World War II, volunteering for military service because he felt it was right. He served as an anti-aircraft gunner at the battles of Tinian and Okinawa and earned a Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism under fire. Hodges would return to the major leagues in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier.
The documentary recalls the close relationship that Hodges and Robinson formed, which extended to family hangouts at their private homes. Hodges was very protective of Robinson and would often defend him against aggression from their opponents. When Hodges died in 1972, Robinson would tell Gil Hodges Jr.:
“Next to my son’s death, this is the worst day of my life.”
Hodges was proven to be just as effective a manager as he was a player when he took up the task of managing the Mets in 1968. In just one year, he took this perennial disappointment of a team and forged them into the “Miracle Mets” of 1969. Mets players who were interviewed for the documentary noted that there may not have been a “Miracle Mets” team if not for Hodges.
Hodges was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Golden Days Era Committee in December, 2021, and was finally formally inducted on July 24, 2022. His prowess as an athlete, his convictions as an American, and his devoted Catholic faith are immortalized in his new documentary, The Gil Hodges Story.
Watch this powerful testimony, above, for one of baseball and the 20th century’s greatest and most often overlooked figures. Then visit Spirit Juice Studios to learn more about Gil Hodges.