April 2, 1972 was a comfortably cool, breezy afternoon in West Palm Beach, FL. The day before, major league players had gone on strike, resulting in the cancellation of regular season games. With no settlement imminent, New York Mets manager Gil Hodges joined his coaches for a round of golf. He had already led the franchise to an improbable 1969 World Series title and was about to begin his fifth season at the helm.
While walking back to his room at the Ramada Inn, Hodges, a long-time chain smoker two days shy of his 48th birthday, suffered a massive, fatal heart attack. The baseball season would resume in less than two weeks, but one of its most popular figures was gone. It was a cruel fate for one of the Boys of Summer, those beloved Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s.
Gil Hodges baseball cards were a fixture in packs from 1949 through the late 1972 season and considering his accomplishments, it’s hard to find a more underrated group across the long history of the hobby. The pride of Petersburg, IN, Hodges was great by virtually every measure, but doesn’t have the “HOF” behind his name and thus, prices for one of the best players of his era—or any other—lag well behind his colleagues who gave been deemed Cooperstown worthy.
“There are a few ballplayers that, though they are not in the Hall of Fame, were so great and popular that as far as many fans are concerned, they are treated like Hall of Famers. Gil Hodges falls into this special category,” said Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. “His cards do sell for a premium, as well they should, but nowhere near as much as if he was in the Hall of Fame. Because of this, a very strong case can be made that his cards are a bargain.”
Hodges was 11th on the all-time home run list when he retired with 370 and to this day is one of only two National League players to have hit 23 or more homers and driven in 100 runs for seven consecutive seasons. The other is Albert Pujols. For about a dozen seasons, Hodges was unquestionably the best first baseman in baseball.
“Not getting booed at Ebbets Field was an amazing thing,” said former teammate Clem Labine. “Those fans knew their baseball and Gil was the only player I can remember whom the fans never, I mean never booed.”
Hall of Fame or not, few would argue his cards are undervalued but Hodges still has plenty of fans according to Leighton Sheldon of New Jersey-based Just Collect, which sells thousands of vintage cards each week.
“They are popular,” Sheldon told Sports Collectors Daily of Hodges’ lengthy cardboard run. “Especially his rookie card, in any condition.”
Hodges appears in the rare rounded border 1947 Bond Bread set and the wide-ranging Exhibit Supply Company sets issued beginning that same season. Those oversized cards are OK, but Hodges rookie card is recognized as card #100 in the 1949 Bowman issue. Fewer than 15 mint, graded examples exist but an SGC 96 example sold for just $2,151 in November 2013. The average selling price for a Near Mint 7 currently stands at just over $280. By comparison, the 1949 Bowman rookie of Hodges’ Hall of Fame teammate Duke Snider, is over $1,150.
Amazingly, Hodges rookie cards in NM/MT (8) condition have actually fallen over the last year. Sales a year ago were recorded at around $700 but recently, one sold for just $535.
Hodges appeared in both Bowman and Topps sets except for 1953 when he was under an exclusive contract with Bowman. His second year Bowman card from 1950 rarely costs over $200 in near mint condition and the popular 1952 Topps, while pricier than most, can still be had in near mint condition for $200-350. Usually smiling in a portrait pose or holding a bat on trading cards, Hodges shows off his stretch on the ’53 Bowman. An SGC 96 sold for $1,553 in 2014. A ‘7’ can often be had for around $200.
Hodges is one of the few players who made the transition to managing while still playing and thus, there is literally no interruption in his appearances on Topps cards from 1954-1972. He is in every flagship Topps set as a player or manager during what is considered by some to be the ‘golden era’ of baseball card collecting but none are out of the average collector’s price range. The highest price paid for any Hodges card in recent months was $2,151 for a 1954 Topps PSA 9. Many of his cards from the mid-60s on are available for just a few dollars.
Sheldon says part of the reason why the Dodger great’s cards may not sell for as much as they should is that over time, he’s become “overshadowed by Snider and Jackie Robinson.”
Hodges belongs to a unique club of players who were immensely popular when active and remain so today for a variety of reasons but don’t claim residence in the stacks of Hall of Famers on a dealer’s show table.
“In addition to Gil Hodges, I think Thurman Munson, Dick Allen, and Roger Maris also fall into this category,” Lifson stated. “The cards of these players represent an outstanding collecting value.”
It’s not a stretch to say one could build a complete, crease-free collection of Hodges cards, even on a fairly limited budget. His personal statistical record, defensive ability and post-season record of seven World Series trips, two championships as a player and a third as a manager make him a strange Hall of Fame omission. Whether he’s elected or not, it’s hard to find a better value in the vintage market than a man who had success of one sort or another for parts of four decades.
You can see original Gil Hodges cards on eBay by clicking here.