Gil Hodges was actually born Gilbert Ray Hodge on April 4, 1924 in Princeton, Indiana, it is unclear how, why, or when the “s” was added to his last name. His mother’s name was Irene and his father was affectionately known as “Big Charlie.” When Gil was 7 years old Big Charlie moved the family from Princeton to Petersburg, Indiana. It was there that Hodges became a four-sport high school athlete, earning seven varsity letters running track and playing football, baseball, and basketball.
In 1941, just out of high school, he was offered a Minor League contract by the Detroit Tigers organization. Unsure of his future, Hodges decided that he would be best served continuing his education and so he enrolled at St. Josephs College. There he studied Physical Education with the goal of becoming a coach at the collegiate level. He found work as a drill press operator at a local factory and while playing on short-stop for their team was noticed by Brooklyn Dodger scout Stanley Feezle.
His Major League debut came at age 20. On October 3, 1943 he played third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in Cincinnati’s Crosely Field striking out both times he came to the plate. Shortly thereafter he was called into action and spent the next two and a half years stationed in Pearl Harbor, Tinian, and Okinawa with the 16th Anti-Aircraft Battalion of the Marine Corps. For his service he was awarded a Bronze Star and discharged in 1946. He was a man so humble that his wife Joan did not learn of the metal that he had won for bravery in combat until years after the fact.
He rejoined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as their third-string catcher, a position that had been suggested for him by Branch Rickey. With Roy Campanella proving himself the best catcher in baseball there was little need to keep Hodges behind the plate. By mid-1948 he was shifted to first base by Manager Leo Durocher. I “put a first baseman’s glove on our other rookie catcher” he recalled, “three days later I’m looking at the best first baseman I’d seen since Dolf Camilli.”
In 1948 Hodges appeared in 134 games, his first full season for the club, and put together a fine season hitting .249 with 11 home runs and 70 RBIs. That same year he married Joan Lombardi and the two made home in Brooklyn where he would ultimately raise their four children; Gil Jr., Irene, Cynthia, and Barbara. He was now a full-fledged member of the Brooklyn Dodger organization and was developing a fan base that placed him at the center of perhaps the greatest cult following a sports franchise has ever spawned.
In 1949 the Dodgers beat out the St Louis Cardinals in a tight race to take the National League Pennant behind one of the most talented lineups in history that placed Gil in the company of Campanella, Robinson, Reese, Furillo, and Snider. Now 25 years old he bumped his batting average up over 35 points to .285, hit 23 home runs (tying Duke Snider for club lead), and drove in 115 runs (the first of seven consecutive seasons of 100+ RBIs). He also earned his first of eight All-Star selections.
At the dawn of the 1950s Hodges was entering the most productive period of his career. His homerun numbers were steadily increasing establishing his abilities as a reliable power hitter and he was displaying more and more of his talents in the field. 1950 and 51 saw Dem Bums finishing second in their division in close races including the infamous 1951 “Shot Heard Round the World” series. 1952 and 53 were slightly better for the team who made it to the World Series only to be defeated by cross town rivals the Yankees two years in a row. In 52 Hodges slipped a little in terms of average (.254) and had a terrible postseason going 0 for 21.
Rather than come down on their hard luck first baseman for his less than stellar play the Brooklyn faithful rallied behind Hodges, cheering and encouraging him each time he came to the plate. For this he rewarded them with a fantastic year in 1953 hitting 31 home runs with a .302 batting average. All of this set the stage for the 1954 season, which may have been the finest offensive year in Hodges time in baseball. He put up career high numbers in batting average (.304), runs batted in (130), and home runs (42).
The Dodgers 1955 season in one of the most celebrated in baseball history. The Franchise had been in existence in some form or another in the borough of Brooklyn since 1884 and had yet to finish better than first in the National League to the torment of their fans (and the delight of those of their cross-town rivals). In 55 all of their stars lined up and they took home their first World Championship. Hodges was a major contributor all season long hitting .289, 27 homeruns, and 102 RBIs. In the post season he came through in the clutch hitting .295 including the only two RBIs in the seventh and deciding game. He was responsible for the last out of that historic series, fielding a throw from Pee Wee Reese to end the game.
In six more seasons with the Dodgers, two in Brooklyn and four in Los Angeles, Hodges remained an integral member of the team’s lineup. The team once again made it to the World Series in 1956 but fell short of victory against the New York Yankees. In 1957 the teams’ owner did the unthinkable and announced that the beloved Dodgers of Brooklyn would be moving across the country and taking up their new home in Los Angeles, an act for which he has been called one of the greatest villains in history.
Three years later, in 1959, the Dodgers had moved cross-country and in their new incarnation as the Los Angeles Dodgers found themselves once again World Champions, having defeated the Chicago White Sox.
Even thought the Dodgers had moved across the country, the Hodges family continued to keep their east coast home as well. In 1961 the National League’s expansion franchise the New York Mets selected Gil in the first round of their draft and back to New York he went. He played in 54 games during the 1962 season hitting the first home run in Mets history. In 1963 he began the season as a player but was quickly traded to the Washington Senators where he took on his first managerial role. He remained in Washington for the following four seasons and while his team steadily improved they never finished higher than 6th place.
In November of 1967 the powers that be in Washington decided they no longer had use for their aging manager and traded him back to New York for pitcher Bill Deney and $100,000 cash. With Hodges at the helm the New York Mets went for worst to first, winning the 1969 World Championship over the Baltimore Orioles and Gil reaffirmed his standing in New York sports immortality.
On April 2, 1972 Hodges played a round of golf with fellow former ball players Joe Pignatano, Rube Walker, and Eddie Yost. After polishing off 27 holes in one day, the foursome was walking back to their West Palm Beach hotel and Hodges fell to the pavement. He was pronounced dead at 5:45 pm. The New York Mets were to open the season on April 7, which also happened to be the day of the funeral. They forfeited the game in order to be able to attend.
Most commonly, his signature will read “Gil Hodges”, with the occasional salutation of “Best Wishes” added. The initial stroke of his autograph begins at the baseline and sweeps up forming what looks like a “u” at the apex and then back down usually falling a touch below the starting point and out to the left before sweeping back up and over with his terminal stroke. This forms his stylized “G.” The remainder of his first name, the “il”, is formed with standard cursive lettering. To dot his “i” an occasion pen lift would be employed and a distinctive circle formed. Occasionally the final descender of the “l” in his first name will be extended upward in a sweeping, quick stroke to form the dot.
The initial stroke of his last name, the first stem of the “H”, is quite often found connected to his terminal stroke of his first. This almost exclusively happens on flat items, on a ball there will more often than not be a pen lift. The remainder of the last name is formed without lift of the pen. The second stem of the “H” is typically the highest, or second highest, point in the autograph. The stroke begins at the top of the staff and shots down before kicking up and out to the left forming what looks like a lower case “o” which serves as both the cross of the “H” and the transitional stroke to the beginning of the remainder of his last name. The “odg” is essentially made of a series of circular strokes and the descender of the “g” tends to sweep out to the left. On rare occasions a pen lift can be observed between the “d” and “g.” The “es” finishes off in standard cursive formation. Going as far back as the early 1950s and continuing throughout his life Hodges would occasionally, in haste, sign his name with the only pen lift falling after the in first stem in the “H” of his last name.
Hodges’ signature is widely collected and there is surely enough supply to meet the demand. The value lies in his cult following and perceived scarcity. Also, the notion that he will eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown and that value will rise accordingly. Most autograph dealers keep him in stock and his signature is frequently available at auction in a wide variety of mediums. Typically, it would be priced as follows: cuts, 3x5s, album pages, and the like fall in the $100-250 range depending on quality and age. Signed images, yearbook pages, and the like should sell around $250-500. Single signed baseballs are a prize and a nice example can be had for $1000 on the low end and upwards of $2500 for the nice specimens. Often seen on team signed balls from his playing days right through his managerial career, it is best that these be approached with caution. Clubhouse versions can be quite good and are many times hard to decipher for the untrained eye. A stamped version of his autograph has been encountered on team signed balls dating to his days with both the Washington Senators and New York Mets. Also worthy of note are the myriad team issued photographs from his days with the Mets, which are tagged with a stamped reproduction of his signature. These are often traded as valid.