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Gomer Hodge, ballplayer, coach for Pawtucket

RUTHERFORDTON, N.C. -- Gomer Hodge, whose southern drawl helped him become a sort of folk hero during the Cleveland Indians' dismal 1971 season, died Sunday after a long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, his wife said. He was 63.

Mr. Hodge also was a former hitting coach with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Born as Harold Morris Hodge, he earned the nickname "Gomer" because of his uncanny resemblance to actor Jim Nabors, who starred as a bumbling Marine in the television show "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."

Mr. Hodge also sounded like Gomer Pyle because of his thick North Carolina accent, his wife said.

"He was just a hometown, earthy kind of guy, and I think that's what made him so endearing," said his wife, Linda. "They nicknamed him Gomer and it stuck. It became his professional name." An infielder, Mr. Hodge tallied 16 pinch hits out of 17 total hits during his single season with the Indians.

After going 4-for-4, he excitedly told sportswriters he was batting 4.000.

But he recorded only 83 official at-bats and a .205 batting average as the Indians lost more than 100 games in 1971. His lone home run came that September in Fenway Park.

Mr. Hodge spent the next two decades in places such as the Class A Midwest League, but he reached Class AAA Pawtucket as a coach with the Red Sox in 2001.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Hodge leaves a son, Nicholas, and a daughter, Morgan.

Services will be held today in Rutherfordton.