Harold Morris Hodge
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 185 lb.
- Debut April 6, 1971
- Final Game September 26, 1971
- Born April 3, 1944 in Rutherfordton, NC USA
- Died May 13, 2007 in Saluda, NC USA
Gomer Hodge had a remarkable debut in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1971. Used as a pinch hitter and late-inning substitute, he collected base hits in his first four at bats, including two game-winning hits. He cooled down afterward, and while he spent all of the season with the Indians, he never played again in the majors after that.
Harold Hodge acquired his nickname "Gomer" from minor league teammates after the popular television show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Hodge resembled Jim Nabors, the star of the show physically, and, like Nabors's character, spoke with a deep southern accent.
Hodge was an 8-year minor league veteran, all in the Cleveland Indians organization, when he made the Indians out of spring training in 1971. He had started out as a third baseman with the Dubuque Packers of the Midwest League in 1963 and gradually made his way up, spending three years in single-A and four years in AA. He finally reached AAA mid-way through the 1969 season, with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, but was back to AA with the Savannah Indians in 1970. He hit .291 in 506 at bats that year, with a career-high 9 home runs. By then he had become a very versatile player, spending time at shortstop, first base, second base and the outfield in addition to his native third base.
Hodge said that the day on which Indians manager Alvin Dark told him he had made the team was the biggest thrill of his career. It was on his 27th birthday, April 3, 1971. On Opening Day that year, played in Detroit on April 6, he singled for a run as pinch hitter against Mickey Lolich. In the Indians' home opener on April 8 against the Boston Red Sox, he hit a pinch double in the 8th inning and scored his team's first run. He remained in the game to play second base, then hit a two-run single in the bottom of the 9th to win the game 3-2. Three days later, he hit a pinch double against the same Red Sox in a 7-2 win. That is when he uttered the imperishable quote that will forever be attached to his name: "Gollee, fellas, I'm hitting 4.000". The rest of the season wasn't so great, for him or for his team. His batting average fell to .205, the Indians lost 102 games for the year, and the only other highlight of his short career was his lone home run, hit on September 3 over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston. He was outrighted to the minors at the end of the season.
In 1972, the Indians asked Hodge to be a player-coach with Portland. He continued in the same capacity with the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1973, then concentrated on coaching duties in 1974. The next season, while coaching with the San Jose Bees in the Class-A California League, he got into 16 games as a designated hitter, then received his first managerial assignment with the same team the next season. His team went 45-95, worst in the league, and he played a final 7 games as a DH. He was fired at the end of the season, his time in baseball seemingly over. He returned to work on his father's farm in North Carolina.
Hodge got back in the game in 1981 when Indians General Manager Bob Quinn offered him a new opportunity to manage in the minor leagues, with the Waterloo Indians of the Midwest League, and he jumped on it. He managed that team for four seasons, then spent three seasons with the Beloit Brewers in the same league. He was named the Midwest League manager of the year in both 1981 and 1983. After 1989, he worked in various capacities in minor league baseball, including a long stretch in the Montreal Expos organization. That included a season as manager of the GCL Expos in 1990 and a half-season at the helm of the West Palm Beach Expos of the Florida State League, but more importantly a number of seasons as a scout. It was in this capacity that he visited the Dominican Republic in the winter of 1992-93 to attend tryouts of young players organized by the Expos. This was the legendary occasion when a young Vladimir Guerrero showed up in jeans, took a few powerful swings, then pulled a groin muscle running to first base, but was signed on the basis that extremely short display of tremendous raw talent.
Hodge was a coach for the Augusta Greenjackets in 1999, GCL Red Sox in 2000, and Pawtucket Red Sox in 2001. Hodge also piloted the Mayos de Navojoa in the Mexican Pacific League winters of 1999-2000, 2002-2003, and 2003-2004. By that time, he was already suffering from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), of which he died in May, 2007.
He was remembered by everyone as a tremendously nice person, who still had a fan club in Cleveland thirty years after his short burst of glory. His first wife, whom he met while managing in Waterloo, deserted him after twenty years after cheating on him and leaving $ 20,000 in unpaid bills. He then remarried in 2002. He was the father of two children from his first marriage.
Year-by-Year Managerial Record
|1976||San Jose Bees||California League||45-95||6th||Cleveland Indians|
|1981||Waterloo Indians||Midwest League||81-55||2nd||Cleveland Indians||Lost in 1st round|
|1982||Waterloo Indians||Midwest League||75-64||5th||Cleveland Indians|
|1983||Waterloo Indians||Midwest League||76-64||3rd (t)||Cleveland Indians||Lost in 1st round|
|1984||Waterloo Indians||Midwest League||65-74||9th||Cleveland Indians|
|1986||Beloit Brewers||Midwest League||70-69||6th||Milwaukee Brewers|
|1987||Beloit Brewers||Midwest League||76-64||3rd||Milwaukee Brewers||Lost in 1st round|
|1988||Beloit Brewers||Midwest League||66-74||8th||Milwaukee Brewers|
|1990||GCL Expos||Gulf Coast League||40-23||1st||Montreal Expos||Lost League Finals|
|1995||West Palm Beach Expos||Florida State League||19-36||--||Montreal Expos||replaced by Rick Sofield (35-45) on June 4|
- Russell Schneider: "Whatever Happened to... Gomer Hodge?", in Brad Sullivan, ed. Batting Four Thousand: Baseball in the Western Reserve, SABR, Cleveland, OH, 2008, pp. 66-67.