Fans who grew up with the Brooklyn Dodgers are united in the belief that Gil Hodges belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Not one, but at least two, Facebook groups exist advocating for Hodges’ enshrinement. The sentiment is not limited to Dodgers fans. The Athletic’s Joe Posnaski ranked Hodges 13th among Hall of Fame Outsiders this past January.
On August 15, 2021, Hodges was posthumously inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Troy, New York, some 90 miles due east of Cooperstown. It is not THE Hall, but it is a Hall, and it might help him move closer to Cooperstown.
“Does he belong [in Cooperstown]? Of course,” said Rene LeRoux, president of the NYSBHOF. “I really appreciate those [Facebook] groups, but also respect the process. Hopefully this gives him a little nudge to go the last 90 miles.”
Hodges, a fan favorite in Brooklyn for more than a decade, finished his playing career with the hapless expansion New York Mets, before managing the same Mets franchise to an Amazin’ World Series title in 1969. Originally from Princeton, Indiana, Hodges married Joan Lombardi, a Brooklyn native, and owned a bowling alley in Brooklyn which he ran during the offseason. Joan, who will turn 95 in September, still lives in Brooklyn on Gil Hodges Way, a stretch of Bedford Avenue between Avenue L and Avenue N.
“This was a great honor for Dad,” said Gil Hodges, Jr. who lives in Florida but flew to Troy in order to speak at the induction ceremony.
“It is the recognition of a man from Indiana who became so loved in New York during his playing days with Brooklyn and the Mets, and then as manager of the Mets,” he said. “We are getting much closer [to Cooperstown] geographically.”
LeRoux expounded on Hodges’ characteristics as a player and manager. “Gil was really a Brooklyn Dodger. The fans loved him and even prayed for him when he struggled,” he said. “He spoke softly and carried a big stick. No one questioned his judgment.”
Gil Jr. cherished the recognition of the impact his father had on Brooklyn. P.S. 193 on Avenue L was named The Gil Hodges School, and, in 1978, the Metropolitan Transit Authority added Hodges’ name to the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Bridge which connects Flatbush Avenue to Rockaway Peninsula and the beaches.
“We are so appreciative that having passed away five decades ago, Dad is still being remembered,” Gil Jr. said. “People speak like they had dinner with him last week.”
Also honored was Carl Erskine, Hodges’ teammate in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, who received the Johnny Podres Lifetime Achievement Award, first awarded in 2013. Jim Denny, an Anderson, Indiana friend of Erskine’s, nominated the former pitcher for the award.
Erskine, who is 94 years old and lives with Betty, his wife of 74 years this October, did not travel to New York, but his son, Gary, delivered remarks at the ceremony.
Speaking from his home in Anderson, Indiana, Erskine was characteristically gracious about the recognition.
“I always felt it was a privilege to play in New York. It was the biggest stage with the brightest lights,” he reflected. “I was sorry I couldn’t attend and am very thrilled with the honor.”
A staple on four Dodger World Series teams in 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, Erskine was also beloved by Brooklyn fans. A testament to that affection occurred in 2002 when a portion of Atkins Avenue from Flatlands Avenue to Belt Parkway was named Erskine Street. Even after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, Carl and Betty stayed in touch with friends and babysitters from the Bay Ridge portion of Brooklyn where they lived.
Erskine recalled an “old-timers” event he attended some time ago at which he ran into a couple members of the “Carl Erskine Fan Club” who were now grandparents. “Those were very supportive years. We have a lot of fond memories,” he said. “It was an honor to play in Brooklyn.”
“Carl’s career goes beyond statistics,” LeRoux said, noting Erskine’s unselfish dedication to the Special Olympics as evidence. “These were among the nicest and most polite [Dodgers]. The borough really rallied around them. It was a love affair among the team, the fans, and the players.”
That Hodges and Erskine were both honored at the same time is fitting. The two were connected on the Dodgers for 12 seasons, from 1948-59, spanning the entirety of Erskine’s career. Both players hailed from Indiana. Both players were signed by Dodgers scout Stanley Feezle.
“We liked to brag that after the national anthem, the most played song by [Ebbets Field organist in the 1950s] Gladys Gooding was ‘Back Home Again in Indiana,’” Erskine remembered with a hearty laugh.
Founded by LeRoux in 2011, the NYSBHOF considers anyone who was born in New York, played in New York, or retired in New York. The hall has previously recognized Dodgers Ralph Branca, Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax, and Johnny Podres. Scully recorded a welcome video played at the ceremony in which he recalled his time in New York, and the careers of Hodges and Erskine.
Hodges’ next opportunity to be honored will occur in December 2021 when the eras committees (formerly the veterans committee) of the National Baseball Hall of Fame vote to consider players from the Golden Days Era (1950-1969) for induction in 2022, an event which was postponed in 2020 due to uncertainties with COVID-19.
Others recognized alongside Hodges and Erskine in New York on August 15, included former Yankees Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez, and Mike Pagilarulo, as well as Jerry Koosman, a pitcher on the 1969 Mets.