While I was researching my “Best Non-MVP Season” article I came across a lesser known but not unknown player, Lefty O’Doul. Here is a bit of his interesting story.
Lefty’s 1929 season was one of the best non-MVP seasons he hit .398/.465/.622 and finished second to ‘Rajah’ Hornsby in MVP voting. Lefty at this time was 32 and was playing as a full time outfielder for the first time in the ML.
Lefty came up as a part time pitcher and part time outfielder in 1919 as a 22 year old the same time another Yankee lefty pitcher was becoming the most famous baseball player ever, Babe Ruth. Lefty, like Ruth was also quite a character, usually liked by his teammates, writers and a fan favourite. That is about as far as Lefty’s career mirrors Ruth’s. In his early years Lefty wasn’t the hitter nor the pitcher Ruth was and by the time he was 26 he was washed up. He had played in 100 games, collected 14 hit and had an ERA of 4.87.
Not much of a career. However, Lefty returned to his native San Francisco and played in the PCL where he learned how to hit. He returned to the majors in 1928 at the age of 31, and played as a lefty specialist and a platoon outfield. During his career year of 1929 his dead pull left handed bat collected 254 hits and 32 HR at the tiny Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. Lefty continued to put up great numbers in the next 5 years. He hit .383, .336, .368, .284 and .316.
By this time he was 37 and retired from playing with two NL batting titles to his credit. Lefty is usually remembered as a New York Giant, however, this may be because he is idolised in San Francisco, current home of the Giants. Lefty played almost equally for the Giants, Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers. If a team has to be liked to Lefty is should be the PCL’s San Fran Seals.
Unlike Babe Ruth, Lefty’s career continued, other than being a sideshow. Lefty became a historic manager in the PCL leading the San Francisco Seals from 1934-1951. Of the many players that claim he had an impact on their career was Joe DiMaggio.
Lefty is not in Cooperstown, however, he has been inducted into the Japanese Hall of Fame. During the 1930′s Lefty was a leading figure in the partnership between Japan and American baseball. Lefty, while a star in the majors was an idol
in Japan. He has been credited with founding the Tokyo Giants ballclub. During WW2, Lefty was personally put off by the war and the actions of the Japanese government. Lefty was a great man, he was known for his kindness and, like the Babe, loved children. When the war was over, Lefty forgave any grieveance he had and continued his good will trips to Japan to coach youngsters. Lefty died on Dec 7 1969, ironically, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lefty is a baseball celebrity in San Francisco, his name is synonymous with the area surrounding the new park in SF. And he does have a restaurant in San Francisco that serve a Corned Beef and Cabbage special that sounds fabulous!