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As Gil Hodges and Maury Wills await a Hall call, let’s not forget Willie Davis and Jim Gilliam

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Remembering a pair of forgotten, great Dodgers

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11: Pitcher Jack Balschun #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws the pitch to Willie Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as Jim Gilliam #19 of the Dodgers tries to steal second base during an MLB game on June 11, 1961 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. The home plate umpire is Shag Crawford and second base umpire is Bill Jackowski. (Photo by Hy Peskin/Getty Images)
Set Number: X7628

Earlier this month, the 16 members of the Hall of Fame’s Golden Days Era Committee identified two former Dodger stars among 10 select players to be considered for induction: Gil Hodges and Maury Wills. These two players are synonymous with Dodger teams of the 1950s and 1960s, the “Golden Days Era,” and are certainly deserving of consideration for induction.

Hodges played in six World Series for Brooklyn and Los Angeles, winning two rings, and was a beloved fan favorite in Brooklyn. An eight-time All-Star, he enjoyed a successful managerial career guiding the 1969 New York Mets to their amazing World Series title. A 1972 heart attack following a round of golf at age 47 cut short his life. He finished third, fourth or fifth in the Hall of Fame voting each year between 1970 and 1981. His omission from the Hall is an injustice. The committee needs to induct him this year.

Wills’ viability is less obvious. Although a seven-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion, and 1962 Most Valuable Player with Los Angeles, Wills’ reputation as an outspoken malcontent may hinder him. He had a well-publicized run-in with Dodger management during a goodwill trip to Japan after the 1966 World Series which prompted a trade to Pittsburgh. Although he finished his career with Los Angeles, his overall career statistics do not rate quite as high as Hodges.

Consider the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic for both players. Hodges finished with a career WAR of 43.9, 43.3 in 16 seasons with the Dodgers. Wills was just 39.6, 32.0 in 12 seasons in blue. Hodges ranks 40th among first baseman in JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score System created by Jay Jaffe), one notch below Don Mattingly. Wills ranks 48th among shortstops in JAWS, directly behind Dave Concepcion.

Wills is 10th in Dodger history in each of the following statistical categories: at bats, plate appearances, runs scored, and hits. He is, of course, first in stolen bases in franchise history. Hodges, meanwhile, is third in career total bases for the Dodgers, fourth in games played, fifth in runs scored, sixth in plate appearances and ninth in hits.

And while both Hodges and Wills deserve to be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame, the absence of two Dodger players from consideration by the Golden Days Era committee is perplexing and bordering on insulting. In fact, neither player has even received so much as a single Hall of Fame vote, prompting Jaffe to write for Fangraphs in 2018 that he considered Willie Davis and Jim Gilliam to be the two biggest “slights” of all time. Neither player, both deceased, ever saw his name on a Hall ballot.

Willie Davis has a career WAR of 60.7, including 54.6 WAR in 14 years for Los Angeles, and sits 16th among centerfielders in JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Max Carey, and Kirby Puckett, to name a few. A two-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, 3-Dog, as he was known, ranks fifth in career WAR for the Dodgers, third in hits, fourth in both plate appearances and total bases, and sixth in runs scored and games played. Born in the tiny town of Mineral Springs, Arkansas in the southwest portion of the state, Davis never appeared in fewer than 128 games in a season for the Dodgers from 1961-1973. A wonderful Facebook site pays tribute to the late Davis.

As evidence of the unheralded nature of Davis’ career, in May 2020 Ken Gurnick at MLB.com ranked Davis as the franchise’s second-best center fielder, after Duke Snider. Fan voting on Twitter, likely influenced by recency bias, had Davis a distant third behind Matt Kemp. Not to diminish Kemp’s accomplishments, but those Dodger fans likely do not recall Davis crushing a 400-foot home run off Nolan Ryan in the 1973 All-Star Game while wearing Henry Aaron’s batting helmet. Dodger players forgot to pack their helmets for the game in Kansas City, so Davis, who pinch hit for teammate Don Sutton in the top of the sixth, borrowed Aaron’s.

Perhaps the least-appreciated Dodger of the 1950-60s era was Jim “Junior” Gilliam, a steady, consistent contributor. Only Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, and Gilliam played in seven World Series with the Dodgers. Only Gilliam and Sandy Koufax won four titles, though Koufax did not play in 1955, making Gilliam the only Dodger in history to play in four winning World Series. He is the only player in baseball history to homer in both the Negro Leagues’ East-West All-Star Game and Major League All-Star Game. And, along with only Larry Doby, Willie Mays, and Monte Irvin, Gilliam won both a Negro Leagues championship and a World Series.

The 1953 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star, Gilliam played every position except pitcher, catcher and shortstop for Walter Alston from 1953-1966. Following his retirement, he became the first Black base coach in Major League Baseball, a role he held until his tragic death days before the 1978 World Series. He ranks fifth in games played, right between Hodges and Davis.

Gilliam’s career 45 WAR includes some of his time in the Negro Leagues. His statistics would be stronger had the Dodgers not forced Gilliam to spend the 1951 and 1952 seasons with the Montreal Royals while they figured out how many Black players was too many to keep on the big league club.

His 40.8 WAR is eighth in Dodgers history. He also ranks third in plate appearances, fourth in runs scored, eighth in hits, and ninth in total bases for the Dodgers. Despite playing a lot of his career at third base and in the outfield, Gilliam still ranks 37th among second basemen in JAWS, just behind Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, but 13 spots ahead of his contemporary with the Pirates, Bill Mazeroski.

In some ways, it is impossible to distinguish the success of Wills-Gilliam-Davis in the early 1960s. Their performances were interdependent. Dodger teams of that era were built to win 2-0 and 3-2 games with the planet’s best pitching staff and an offense designed to play small ball and scratch out a couple of runs.

The 1963 championship season was indicative of this. Los Angeles swept the New York Yankees in four games, outscoring the Yankees 12-4 in the entire series! Gilliam led the team with three runs scored and Davis led with three runs batted in. But both players hit less than .200 in the Series.

During Wills’ record-setting 1962 season in which he stole 104 bases, Gilliam, batting second, often took pitches or deliberately tried to hit behind Wills and move him into scoring position where Willie Davis or Tommy Davis — no relation — would drive Wills home. Gilliam, at age 33, amassed a .370 on-base percentage with 15 sacrifice hits in 1962. Wills scored 130 runs. The Davises combined for 238 RBI. The team won 102 games but lost a three-game playoff to the San Francisco Giants.

Here is hoping the Golden Days Era Committee rewards the achievements of both Hodges and Wills with enshrinement in Cooperstown when they meet on December 5.

But, at the same time, let’s remember the contributions of Willie Davis and Jim Gilliam as integral members of the Dodgers’ success of that era, and beyond. They might not be Hall of Famers, but they at least warrant being remembered and recognized for their sustained excellence.