Baseball is, I think, God’s favorite sport. This is no doubt a controversial opinion and admittedly purely subjective, but I stand firmly by it. In its game play, history, and characters, baseball best mirrors the cadence and drama of life, so beautifully that even atheist comedian George Carlin recognized its divine nature. Many of the legendary figures of America’s history were involved in the national pastime, such as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Branch Ricky.
Despite my affinity for the game, I was largely unfamiliar with Gil Hodges, the beloved Dodgers player and Mets manager. Baseball historian Mark Langill has said that “there are two great mysteries about the Dodgers: first, what happened to Kirk Gibson’s home run ball and second, why isn’t Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame?” While Gibson’s ball may be lost forever, the documentary Soul of a Champion makes a compelling case that Hodges absolutely should be in the Hall, which may indeed happen quite soon.
The documentary follows a standard plotline, beginning with Hodges’ childhood. He was raised in an upstanding Catholic family with several siblings and two hard working parents. His father was a poor coal miner who was determined his sons have more success in life and even more determined they would go to heaven. Masses, rosaries, and meatless Fridays were staples of the Hodges household. Year later, even when on the road with nothing else to eat, Gil would never eat a steak on Friday. Throughout his life, Gil attended Mass not just on Sundays but often throughout the week, without fanfare.
Jackie Robinson called Hodges “the core of the Dodgers” and his teammate Duke Snider said, “Gil was a great player, but an even greater man.” Considered one of the greatest first basemen of all time, he was frequently in the top ten of the National League in batting average, hits, runs, RBIs, and homers during the 1950s. He earned three Golden Glove awards, was chosen for the All-Star team seven times, and was the seventh man to hit over 300 home runs in his league. Apart from statistics, he was a calming and positive influence on his teammates and fans, demonstrating exceptional sportsmanship. Several Dodgers players and coaches have stated he was the only player never booed at Ebetts Field. It is only fitting that he was the last man to score a run in that ballpark before the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
Read more at Catholic World Report