Gil Hodges didn't hold players hands throughout his tenure as the Mets manager. He just had a gift for saying the right thing at the right time, a claim made by virtually every Met who played for him. And when he wasn't saying it, he was demonstrating it through his actions.
During the 1969 season, Hodges removed Cleon Jones from left field after Jones had not hustled after a hit during the first game of doubleheader on July 30th against the Houston Astros. It signaled to the players that Hodges would accept only maximum effort, and it helped the Mets take themselves more seriously during their championship run. It even helped Cleon Jones take himself more seriously.
"He was instrumental in my hitting .340," Jones said of Gil Hodges. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves. He pointed out a few times that I had the capability to do it. As a result, we all came ready to do the job. When we fell short of our duties, he would remind us that we should be doing better. He made all the difference. He had the knack of doing the right thing before the situation got out of hand. I can point to Leo Durocher and other guys who were supposed to be great managers who didn't do as well in every area of the game as Gil Hodges did."
Leaders instill a confidence in their people, and create a belief system that produces winning results. Gil Hodges instilled that confidence in his players and throughout the entire Mets organization. Perhaps it was the absence of Gil Hodges and that confidence that cost the Mets the World Series championship in 1973.
"In 1969 we believed we could win, that we could beat anyone in baseball," Jones said. It was a little bit different in 1973. "We weren't a good club. We went into the World Series and Rusty [Staub] was hurt, Felix [Millan] was hurt and Willie [Mays] was hurt. The only thing we had was good pitching."
Even if Gil Hodges had not managed a Mets miracle in the fall of 1969, his management skills on the baseball field would still live on. Few figures in the game have exhibited such leadership on the field, inspired such confidence and respect in the clubhouse and on the bench, or generated such love from the fans filling the stands at Shea Stadium.
Gil Hodges managed only 649 games for the Mets, winning 339 and good enough to place him third on the all-time wins list as a manager. He won two National League titles and one World Series championship, both with the Mets. In the five seasons he spent as a manager of the Washington Senators, the team improved in total wins each year. Had a manager, not only players, emerged from the corn stalks in the movie, "Field of Dreams," it would have been Gil Hodges.
The debate rages on whether or not Gil Hodges belongs in baseball's Hall of Fame as a player. One cannot debate, however, the magical impact Hodges had on his players and teams as a manager. Quantity aside, if his quality to lead, inspire, motivate, and instill confidence is properly evaluated against the game's other great managers, Hodges is a legitimate Hall of Fame manager - even if he did manage only a brief nine seasons.
And then while the baseball writers and Veteran's Committee continue to debate Gil Hodge's eligibility every year as a player, he'd at least be where he deserves to be - in the Hall of Fame.
John C. Sinclair writes a New York Mets historical column every Wednesday on NYMFansOnly.com
Credit BaseballLibrary.com and MLB.com for the above mentioned quotes.