You won’t find an ex-big leaguer with more personality than Paul Hodgson.
Self-deprecating, intelligent, witty and a man with more interests than most of us can dream up, the Marysville, N.B., native was the second Canadian to suit up for the Toronto Blue Jays and the first right-handed hitting Canuck to belt a home run for the club.
Hodgson, now 52 and living in Ottawa, Ont., has fond memories of his seven-year professional baseball career that also saw him play in the Montreal Expos organization.
After signing with the Blue Jays on his 17th birthday in 1977, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound slugger was impressive with club affiliates in Utica, Medicine Hat and Dunedin, before really catching fire in Single-A Kinston in 1980, where he hit .352 with seven homers in 60 games to earn his first big league call-up.
“I was sitting in a trailer in Kinston, North Carolina watching tennis on TV and the phone rang and it was Dennis Holmberg, our manager,” recalled Hodgson, when asked about the moment he was called up. “And he said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And when he said that, you know that something big is going to happen. He said, ‘Otto Velez got hurt. You’re on a bit of a roll. They want somebody to come up and fill his spot and play some defence. They want you up there tomorrow.’”
In his first big league start on August 31, 1980, Hodgson served as the DH and batted sixth against veteran Twins lefty Jerry Koosman. He struck out in his first at bat.
“It was on a called strike that wasn’t anywhere near a strike. Butch Wynegar was the catcher for the Twins. I forget who the home plate umpire (Bill Kunkel was the umpire) was, but he was one of those veteran umpires and it was a 2-2 pitch and it wasn’t anywhere near the plate outside,” remembered Hodgson. “And he rung me up on it and I remember Wynegar laughing and I just turned around and looked at him, and the umpire said, ‘Welcome to The Show, kid.’”
The following day, Hodgson would single to centre field in the ninth inning off of Rangers right-hander Doc Medich to record his first big league hit. Eighteen days later, on September 19, Hodgson, batting eighth and playing left field, smacked his first big league homer. It came with one out in the sixth inning off of Orioles right-hander Dennis Martinez at Memorial Stadium to tie the game 5-5.
“It was Martinez’s big curve that he was known for, but he hung it out over the plate,” recalled Hodgson. “I was using a black Louisville Slugger P72 at the time, 34-1/2 inches, 32 ounces. I thought the ball landed out near the bullpen, but I wasn’t sure, and I sure as heck wasn’t watching it. When I came into the locker room after the game, the ball was sitting on my chair. Jack Kucek, one of our relievers, had scaled the wall into the Orioles bullpen and found the ball for me. It had gone over their bullpen and into an open area. Jack was a great guy and I was thrilled he had done that. The clubbie had written the particulars on it.”
That ball (pictured above) now resides in the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame.
Hodgson was on track to crack the big league roster the following spring when he injured his right shoulder. After he got hurt, the Jays moved him to the infield.
“They put me at first base and they had John (Mayberry) and Willie (Upshaw) there then,” said Hodgson. “I turned into a pretty good first baseman but that was a tough position to crack.”
From 1981 to 1983, Hodgson would toil in Double-A Knoxville for three seasons, but with his son being born, he decided to return to New Brunswick in 1984. Expos GM Murray Cook convinced him to attend spring training in 1985, but when his shoulder began bothering him again, Hodgson retired for good.
Following his pro career, Hodgson went back to Fredericton where he eventually landed a job in the news department at the local CBC TV station. After more than a decade with CBC, he left in 1996 and has since worked as a correctional officer, as a service representative in the aviation industry and as an IT consultant.