Columnist Tom Hoffarth, of The Los Angeles Daily News, is the city’s go-to guy for all things sports media – the absolute best – and a personal friend. No one has supported my baseball-related efforts, like the “Statue for Sandy” Koufax e-petition and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA – new website coming next month) like Tom.
And this isn’t a shoot-the-messenger post, of course. But someone’s attacking the Dodgers for no good reason and I’m riled up. Especially considering that for the eight years leading up to May 1, 2012, there have been so many legitimate reasons for gripes aimed at ownership, I thought I’d stand up for the Blue here, when there isn’t one.
In this afternoon’s blog, Hoffarth discusses Tom Clavin and Danny Peary’s new book, “Gil Hodges: The Brooklyn Bums, The Miracle Mets and the Extraordinary Life of a Baseball Legend,” highlighting the authors’ contention that the great Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman deserves enshrining in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
That’s all fine and dandy, and absolutely a debate worth having. No one questions the politics and general strangeness of the Veterans Committee, and its various incarnations, more than I. We can discuss the voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of American (BBWAA) another time, and we will. But suffice it to say, I didn’t create the IBWAA in 2009 for nothing, pal.
But back to Gil. Since I’m a Dodger fan, I try to be objective when it comes to our guys, and not say simply “yes, yes, yes” each time. Steve Garvey, for example, I believe to be a Hall of Famer – very much so – and Bill Buckner, my absolute favorite player ever, a near miss. I’m on the fence with Hodges. I’d be fine with him at Cooperstown, but I understand the argument, if we can call it that, against.
Buzzie Bavasi told me on more than one occasion, and in no uncertain terms, that Hodges was every bit the Cooperstown-worthy Dodger, comparing him favorably to Tony Perez, and emphasizing that he lost three seasons at the beginning of his career to World War II. As if he was being penalized for being of service to his country. Basasi really ought to be in Cooperstown too, by the way.
For a concise argument in favor of Gil, also comparing him to Perez, we turn to Tom Verducci, on SI.com a few years ago: “How good was Hodges? Think of him as a better version of Hall of Famer Tony Perez — better plate discipline, better power and a better glove. He outslugged Perez (.487, .463), reached base more often (.359, .341), made more All-Star teams (eight, seven), won more Gold Gloves (three, zero) and had just as many 100-RBI seasons (seven). At the time of his retirement Hodges was the all-time NL leader in home runs among right-handed hitters. He was the premier defensive first baseman of his era and — as part of his overall contribution to the game, which must be considered — he was a highly respected manager who crafted one of the most unlikely world championships in history (the 1969 Mets) and he was the idol of many baseball fans for his integrity and character.”
But look, the Hodges-is-or-isn’t-a-Hall-of-Famer discussion is one thing, blaming the Dodgers even remotely is something else indeed. Doing so in a book, where you can’t go in and click delete, is just plain lame.
Here’s the section in question from Hoffarth’s article. The first two paragraphs are Tom’s; the rest, in quote marks, are Clavin and Peary’s:
One of the arguments made by the authors on page 374 centers on an on-going debate about why the franchise waits to retire numbers until after someone is voted into the Hall.
Meaning, Hodges’ [#14] is not among those honored along the roof of the left and right-field pavilion:
“If the writers and veterans have an excuse for their faulty voting over the years in regard to Hodges, it is that the Los Angeles Dodgers have never retired his number. The Mets did so, but not the organization he belonged to for 20 years. The Dodgers’ backward policy, even during the years of Walter O’Malley and then his son Peter O’Malley ran the team, was to retire uniform numbers only after a player had been voted into Cooperstown.
“Essentially, they continue to outsource the Hodges vote to younger sportswriters who never saw him play. The Dodgers did break their policy and retired Jim Gilliam’s number. Their choosing Gilliam, who was popular for years as a player and coach in Los Angeles, and not Hodges deserves an explanation that has never been given.
“Meanwhile, Hall of Fame voters have been able to say: If the Dodgers don’t even consider Hodges for their Hall of Fame, there’s no reason I should consider him for ours.”
First of all, the Dodgers don’t have a Hall of Fame. C’mon guys, you ought to know that. And the team isn’t responsible for the voting of writers or former baseball players in a committee slash smoke-filled room. What a ridiculous idea.
More importantly, the club’s policy about retiring numbers isn’t “backward.” Just because the player you want isn’t honored the way you want doesn’t make the policy backward, or controversial in the least.
Sandy Koufax was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1972. The same year the Dodgers, led by Walter O’Malley, thought it would be a good idea to retire Sandy’s number (can you blame them?) and did so in a ceremony at Dodger Stadium that same summer.
Since Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella had already been elected to the Hall, in 1962 and 1969 respectively, and since both men were working with the club at the time, it was decided to make the retiring-number event into a threesome. Uniform numbers 32, 39 and 42 were retired together. And a tradition was born. Kind of.
Walter Alston’s number 24 was next, in 1977, which was actually six years before his election into the Hall of Fame. But Alston was an obvious future Hall of Famer, he had just hung em up the previous September, it was clear the number would never be used again, and the club went ahead with the thoroughly-deserved honor, retiring Smokey’s uniform ahead of enshrinement.
As for Jim Gilliam, the authors’ claim that the Dodgers “choosing Gilliam, who was popular for years as a player and coach in Los Angeles, and not Hodges deserves an explanation that has never been given” is truly unfortunate.
Gilliam, while still coaching for the team, died suddenly at 49, October 8, 1977, right smack dab in the middle of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. Can you imagine the shock to the club, losing its third base coach – and with Gilliam’s arrival in Brooklyn in 1953, playing until 1966 and coaching through to the day he died – its longest serving team member?
It was as a special honor in memoriam to Gilliam that the Dodgers retired his number a year later, on October 10, 1978, before the playing of the first game of a little thing called the World Series. So Gilliam wasn’t an actual member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. That was absolutely the right thing for the Dodgers to do, and a beautiful thing, exactly what you’d expect from the O’Malleys.
Later, as Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Pee Wee Reese, Don Sutton and Tommy Lasorda were honored in upstate New York, they were so honored in Los Angeles by the franchise for which they performed. Perhaps about a year from now Mike Piazza will be next, and number 31 will be worn no more. I’m quite sure Brandon League will understand.
If the Dodgers retired the numbers of all their greats, today’s players wouldn’t have a thing to wear. And we don’t want that.
I’d like to see Maury Wills in the Hall one day, and if so, we’ll have number 30 retired promptly. Fernando Valenzuela’s 34 isn’t retired, Neither is Steve Garvey’s number 6. And you don’t hear Don Newcombe – who lost years to both the service and the Negro Leagues – complaining about the number 36.
A couple of uninformed writers shouldn’t be whining about # 14 either. In fact, they owe the Dodgers an apology.
Was listening to that in the car on a drive back from the beach. Made the ride home quite a bit more pleasant. It's September - win or go home.
yep. that was pretty bleeping fun. and a two game winning streak. good games, good weekend. I like jj putz, but I could tell he had a blown save coming. it's like he was in trouble all weekend and they finally got to him. I'm still on vacation, so I'll enjoy the last night in the oc. back in plenty of time for tomorrow's win over the pads.
Howard won't be moping around the house tonight. However, he may eat too much from pure glee. :)
a moral victory for some of us. mattingly finally finally finally hits for treanor. with three catchers there's no reason for him ever to play again, but at least we got him out of there this one time. one more chance or they're 5 1/2 back of the giants.
kemp's pissed at himself. he knows he should've let that pitch go by. he was ahead on the count and just went fishing on that ball, when he could've waited for another pitch. but ok. we still got two more chances....assuming guerrier give that run right back.
there you go! that's the victorino I've been waiting to see. ok. now steal second. or better yet, two run homer for the slumping adrian. come on man!
@rotarandy hey randy. another tough ballgame. tolleson has nothing today. I can already see it. he's up and down, either great or awful, never anything in between. we just got to within a run and immediately he's in trouble
@rotarandy that coulda been a lot worse. looked like a two or three run inning, so here we go in the bottom of the seventh.
nice first inning for paul maholm in atlanta. he made 41 pitches and gave up five to the phils, which is good for us, and way worse than chris capuano, who has now gone five innings.
I turned it on in the 4th and watched a typical Dodger inning - two men on, nobody out, and not a run scored. Turned it back off.
Turned it on in the 8th, Victorino on third, nobody out - and no run scored.
Still helplessly flailing away..."lame".
Watched the end and got to see a win, anyway.
@Johnny Dodger I know. it's amazing. but gonzalez will be fine. it's only one week. anyone can slump for a week. hopefully he gets it going tomorrow and they take two outta three. for tonight I'll feel good.
Howard Cole Johnny Yes, Howard, but in the last week, the Dodgers have lost 6 games. If this was the first half it wouldn't be so critical - now they simply cannot afford to lose 6 games weekly (I should say "weakly"). There's not much time nor many games left for these stars to "find themselves".
Besides, I've been cursing the Dodgers for more years than you've been alive - many times I would hear my dad, who was a serious Dodger fan all his life, turning off his radio with a disgusted "damned sad sack Dodgers". That's exactly what I am feeling.
Howard Cole Somebody around here was saying he'd eventually be the closer. Of course, I didn't think it would take a heart condition for it to happen.
league does look a lot better than he did a couple weeks ago. that's worth something, right?
I'm worried. new closer, his first chance, and a leadoff single after blowing a chance to score.
that's on gonzalez and kemp. you gotta score that run there, and both guys hit really weak fly balls. but ok, let's see if they can get a save. please dodgers!
saw the homer in the restaurant, and just got back. so beckett must've pitched well, no? I didn't see much, but of what I saw he looked good?
Love the anniversary baseball, "Howie", and congratulations. I'm going to spend the next three hours a bit more pleasantly than watching the Dodgers flail helplessly at major league pitching, however.
Have a great vacation, regardless. Tell Beth we all wish you both the very best.