Sunday, January 08, 2006

Lefty O'Doul story

Some friends, well-intentioned, have asked me for the reason behind my use of Lefty O'Doul as a personal e-mail moniker...

Lefty O'Doul's baseball fame is based on three distinct achievements;

* his tremendous hitting record (lifetime batting average of .349 which is only fourth behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Jackson - he also is tied for the National single season record for hits , 254 in 1929)
* Lefty almost singlehandedly organized Japanese baseball in the 1930's and fostered goodwill between the Japanese and Americans after war through his dedication to Japanese baseball and respect for Japanese culture.
* His achievements as a manager in Pacific Coast League. Most notably with the San Francisco Seals where he mentored Joe DiMaggio before he arrived on the Yankees.

Outside of baseball Lefty cut quite a figure in the city of San Francisco, where he was oft seen in his green suit (for good luck) and Cadillac.
Francis Joseph O'Doul born in SF on Mar. 4th 1897 (A few weeks after another San Francisco native, the beautiful silent film star Alma Rubens - if there are any early cinema buffs still reading!).
Lefty's legacy to SF lives on at his "Lefty O'Douls" pub on 333 Geary St.near Powell where you can get a hefty plate of corned beef cabbage and good beer.

"Some ballplayers say that he had the perfect swing, and that includes the great Ted Williams. An interview with Williams in the November 14, 1994 Sporting News describes the young Ted Williams sneaking a look into the field and watching the "most perfect swing" of Lefty O'Doul. "A kid copies what is good. And if he's never seen it, he'll never know. I remember the first time I saw Lefty O'Doul, and he was as far away as those palms. And I saw the guy come to bat in batting practice. I was looking through a knothole, and I said, 'Geez, does that guy look good!' And it was Lefty O'Doul, one of the greatest hitters ever." Lefty O'Doul was an inspiration to many."

Lefty started his hitting career in the major leagues late in life. He started out as a pitcher with the Yankees in 1919 but threw out his arm and went down to the minors. To survive he worked on his already natural hitting and running ability and resurfaced in the majors as an outfielder (albeit a lousy fielder with no arm left!) at age 31 with the NY Giants in 1928. The Giants traded him to the Phillies the next year where he batted .398 to lead the league : he also had a record-setting with 254 hits and 32 home runs. Still, Lefty's age and lackluster fielding gave him only a few yrs remaining in the pros. He was traded to Brooklyn and won his second batting title with them in 1932 (thus the "32" in my email!). He ended his his career back with the Giants in 33-34 and made to the '33 World Series as well.

A note about the O'Doul name -

"His name is certainly famous, firstly because of his own career, but now also because of a non-alcoholic beer sold by Anheuser Busch, O'Doul's.

Another incident helped to make the O'Doul name famous [1]. When Hollywood made the movie Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper, they hired Lefty O'Doul as an uncredited consultant to coach Cooper in the fine points of batting. The movie, considered one of the finest baseball movies ever made, doesn't have much to do with baseball but it includes a humorful reference to Lefty by the scriptwriters, in tribute. In the movie, Lou Gehrig is skulking about his girl friend's house, and is accosted by Officer O'Doul, a stereotypical Irish police officer. This famous scene helped popularize the "Irish" name of O'Doul. It is not, it seems, Irish.

Lefty's last name O'Doul was fabricated by his father, whose real name was Doul. His father was trying to impress his mother's family, who were Irish and supposedly wouldn't have understood her dating anybody but Irish [1]. A check of the Irish registry show no names of O'Doul. In fact, there are very few in the entire United States of America. However, when Anheuser Busch tested names for their non-alcoholic beer, they found a strong identification with "O'Doul's," and so named it [2]. Such is luck, but not, in this case, the luck of the Irish."

Lefty went over to Japan in the early 30's on a barnstorm tour with American All Star players, including Babe Ruth.

Here's a little from Lefty's interview in "The Glory of Their Times" (the greatest baseball book ever written!) about Lefty's experience in Japan:

"I kept going back and finally went to work organizing a professional set-up, like we have here. I'm the one who named the Tokyo Giants...."

"See, I like people who you're not wasting your time trying to help. Teaching Americans and teaching Japanese is just like the difference between night and day. The American kid, he knows more than the coach. But not the Japanese kid. They want to learn. They don't think they know everything. Entirely opposite psychology.

"Take when we blow an automobile horn. We want the pedestrian to get out of the way, right? Horn blows: Get out of the way. We're coming through. Honk, honk: Get out of the way. Well when they blow the horn they're telling the pedestrian it's OK: we see you. Horn blows: we see you. Honk-honk: we see you. So, when the horn blows they don't jump or anything. They know they won't get hit...Just the opposite from us."

At age 59 lefty was managing a PCL team out of Vancouver and put himself in the game to pinch-hit. "..I hit a ball between the outfielders and staggered all the wayaround to third."

"A triple. Fifty-nine years old. How about that!" Right there - forty years too late - I learned the secret of successful hitting. It consists of two things. the first is clean living, and the second is to bat against a pitcher who's laughing so hard he can hardly throw the ball."

Francis Joseph O'Doul 1897-1969 ..may he rest in peace!

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