We’re going to try out a new feature here at Rumors and Rants. You can call it something of a history lesson. In fact, let’s just go ahead and call it “A Rumors and Rants History Lesson.”
Our hopes are to bring to light the stories and achievements of past stars we, as general sports fans, know absolutely nothing about.
For instance, if I were to ask you who has the fourth best batting average in Major League history, who would you guess?
Ted Williams? Babe Ruth? Lou Gehrig? Tony Gwynn?
Well tops on the list is Ty Cobb (.366). Rogers Hornsby (.358) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (.355) are at second and third, respectively.
All names we’ve heard of.
But I’m guessing Lefty O’Doul wasn’t among the first few names rattling around in your brain. In fact, I think it’s safe to say you’ve never even heard of Lefty O’Doul. Am I right?
Francis Joseph O’Doul played 11 Major League seasons and posted a .349 career batting average. His story is an interesting one as it’s rumored he was the inspiration for Roy Hobbs, Bernard Malamud’s legendary character in “The Natural.”
Let’s take a closer look, shall we.
A 22-year old O’Doul broke into the majors in 1919 with the Yankees as a left-handed pitcher. He was relatively unaccomplished because arm troubles forced him into a relief role, which in those days was like being a pen with no ink.
He played three seasons with the Yankees before spending 1923 with Boston. While in Boston, he had the dubious distinction of allowing 13 runs in a single inning, a new record at the time. So with pitching obviously not the answer, O’Doul tried to reinvent himself like a loser high school senior preparing for college.
Five years later, the New York Giants brought him back to the majors as a platoon player. A then 31-year old O’Doul played in 114 games for the Giants and batted .318 with eight homers and 46 RBI. However, his defensive liabilities, namely a poor throwing arm, made him disposable, and he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1929.
In Philly, he teamed with Indianapolis native Chuck Klein and put up monster offensive numbers. He batted an astounding (and league-leading) .398 on his way to collecting a league-high 254 hits. Thirty-two of those hits left the yard and he knocked in 122 runs as he finished second in MVP voting to Hornsby.
You can just hear Bobby Redford, can’t you?
“Red, it took me 16 years to get here. You play me, and I’ll give you the best I got.”
He followed his banner year with another big season in 1930, batting .383 with 22 home runs and 97 RBI. But again, O’Doul was traded because he couldn’t play defense – this time to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He disappointed in his first year with the Dodgers, hitting just seven home runs, though he batted .336.
A 35-year old O’Doul rebounded in 1932 when he hit 21 home runs, knocked in 90 runs and batted a league-leading .368.
His next season would be an eventful one. He got off to a slow start and was traded back to the New York Giants 43 games into the 1933 season. Despite his poor start, he was named to his first and only All-Star Game (it was more of a lifetime achievement nod than anything else). In the game Lefty O’Doul was 0-for-1 in a pinch-hit appearance in a contest won by Lefty Gomez and saved by Lefty Grove. Don’t you just love those creative old-time nicknames?
Later that season, O’Doul made his only playoff appearance. His postseason career consisted of one pinch-hit at bat in the 1933 World Series against the Washington Senators.
Pinch-hitting for center fielder Kiddo Davis in the sixth inning of Game Two, O’Doul hit a two-RBI single that helped the Giants rally to a six-run inning and an eventual 6-1 win. But O’Doul’s one swing was all he was called on for in the Series, as Homer Peel took over defensive duties in center field in the top of the seventh. The Giants won the Series in five games.
O’Doul played one more season with the Giants, batting .316 with nine home runs and 46 RBI in 83 games before being released.
A San Francisco native, O’Doul managed the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League from 1937 to 1951, during which he managed a young Joe DiMaggio. O’Doul refused to take credit for Joe’s success. “I was just smart enough to leave him alone,” he said. But O’Doul was great with the kids. in fact, during his time with the Seals he set the league’s record for career wins.
O’Doul was key in spreading baseball’s popularity in Japan. He was baseball’s goodwill ambassador before and after World War II and made more than 30 trips to Japan to help teach the game’s fundamentals. It was at Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s request that O’Doul stayed in Japan after the war to help repair relations between the two countries.
He is also credited for naming the Tokyo Giants in 1935 after his beloved New York Giants. And in 2002, he was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
Back stateside, naturally a man with a last name synonymous with non-alcoholic beer (again the whole pen-without-ink type deal) would open a bar. You can find O’Doul’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge on Geary Boulevard in O’Doul’s hometown.
He was inducted in the Bay Area Hall of Fame and a bridge over McCovey Cove outside AT&T Park is named in his honor.
So here’s to you Lefty O’Doul. I raise my glass in your honor, but unlike your pansy ass namesake, I plan to drink something that will get me trashed.