Best Mets Of All Time: No. 14 Gil Hodges
There have only been three people who have worn the number 14 in Mets history – Gil Hodges, Ron Swoboda, and Ken Boyer. Of the three Hodges has the lowest WAR as a member of the Mets, but when you break it all down, Hodges is the only choice for the best Mets player to ever wear the number 14.
Hodges was an original Met after spending the first 16 years of his career with the Dodgers. One of the reasons the Mets selected him in the Expansion Draft was he was a beloved Brooklyn Dodger, and he was a borderline Hall of Famer. In his brief playing career with the Mets, Hodges would hit the first homer in Mets history, and he would retire with the 10th most homers in Major League history.
In 1963, the Mets traded Hodges to the Washington Senators where he would become the team’s manager. Four years later, the Mets were making a trade with the Senators to bring Hodges back to New York so he could manage the Mets. While we talk about Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Noah Syndergaard, and Yoenis Cespedes, this could have been the best trade the Mets ever made.
While many focus on the miracle, and rightfully so, lost in the shuffle was his immediate impact. Prior to Hodges being hired, the Mets had lost 100 games in five of their first six seasons, and they never won more than 66 games in a season. In Hodges first year, the Mets avoided the 90 loss mark. Yes, the Mets were still under .500, but that was a 12 game improvement.
It was during that 1968 season where Hodges put the first touches on what would become the most shocking season in Major League history. In that year, he began platooning players to get the most out of their respective abilities, and he pushed the Mets towards a five man rotation. That certainly helped Jerry Koosman, who was an All-Star and finished second to Johnny Bench in the Rookie of the Year voting.
In that magical 1969 season, the Mets were actually two games under .500 entering June. As far as the Mets went, that meant they were having a great year. Little did everyone know what was going to happen next.
After an 11 game winning streak, the Mets were six games over .500, but still, they were not much of a factor yet as that pulled them up to seven games behind the Cubs. The Mets were still alive but trailing significantly through July. It was on July 30, when Hodges made a move which may have ignited the team again.
In an extra inning game, Hodges not only pulled star Cleon Jones for not hustling, but he would go out to left field to do it. That was emblematic of his leadership and demand for accountability. For what it is worth, years later, Jones showed no bitterness, and he spoke about how great a leader Hodges was.
It would be in that World Series where Hodges would show how great and quick thinking a manager he was. After a Game 1 loss, he took the unusual step of allowing Clendenon to address the team. Then, in Game 5, he would help swing the momentum of the clinching game:
With Dave McNally dealing, and the Mets down 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, there was a pitch Jones believed hit him in the foot. As the story goes, Hodges turned to Koosman and had him swipe the ball against his freshly polished shoes to make sure there was a mark on the ball. Seeing the mark on the ball, Home Plate Umpire Lou DiMuro awarded Jones first base.
The Orioles were incensed and lost their cool. Two pitches later, McNally allowed a home run to Clendenon pulling the Mets to within one, and the Mets would eventually pull off the 5-3 and win their first ever World Series.
That season Hodges won the Sporting News Manager of the Year, and the Mets became the first ever team to have a 15 game improvement before winning the World Series. Until the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, the Mets were the fastest expansion team to win a World Series.
The Mets were not able to win the division again under Hodges, but they also would be above .500 in each of the ensuing two years. Hodges was one of the driving forces behind the Mets acquiring Rusty Staub. Finally, he got his wish on the eve of the 1972 season, and Hodges was able to talk with Staub at Easter services. However, with the medicals being reviewed, Hodges was unable to tell Staub about the trade, nor was he going to be able to manage him in 1973 when the Mets won their second pennant.
He never would as Hodges would die of a heart attack. That heart attack devastated Mets fans and Dodgers fans alike. It devastated all of baseball. Jackie Robinson was reported to have said, “Next to my son’s death, this is the worst day of my life.”
With his death, Hodges was easily the best manager in Mets history, a mantle many still believe he should hold to this day. He now ranks third all-time in manager wins and fifth in winning percentage. He was the first ever player to have his number retired by the Mets, but as we all know, his number was retired for his impact as a manager. Ultimately, he was posthumously inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
There are those who believe he should one day be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When you consider his guiding the Miracle Mets and his lasting impact on the game, it is hard to argue with those people. For now, he is the greatest Met to ever wear the number 14.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Met to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Hodges was the 14th best in Mets history, but rather the best Met to wear the number 14.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo