- OF, P
- March 4, 1897
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-29-1919 with NYA
How did a baseball player named Lefty O'Doul become so popular in his native San Francisco that a bridge was named after him? The answer is complicated but legendary in the Bay Area. O'Doul began as a pitcher for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, working his way to the big leagues for brief stretches, but an arm injury forced him to concentrate on his hitting.
At the age of 31, in 1928, he made it back to the majors as an outfielder with the New York Giants. The following year with the Phillies, the hard-hitting O'Doul smacked 254 hits and 32 homers, while batting .398 to win the first of his two batting titles. He topped the 200-hit mark twice more, and batted .300 or better six times in his "second career."
Lured by a fat contract to manage the Seals back in his home city, O'Doul took his career .349 batting mark and returned to the West Coast in 1937. He held that position for 15 seasons, managing some of the best players to come out of California.
A player's manager who preached fundamentals and preparation, as well as hard-swinging at the plate, O'Doul won several PCL titles and became the winningest skipper in that league's history. In the 1930s and after World War II, O'Doul almost single-handedly spread baseball through Japan, through several visits to that country. His clinics in the Far East made him a hero in Japan (O'Doul is a member of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame), and cemented his status as a pioneer. Likable and gregarious, O'Doul could often be found behind the bar at his popular restaurant in San Francisco, wearing his favorite attire, which resulted in his nickname: "The Man in the Green Suit."
Early Career as Pitcher
Born in San Francisco, California, O'Doul began his professional career as a left-handed pitcher with the minor-league San Francisco Seals of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. After some major-league success with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox from 1919 to 1923 as a reliever. He pitched in one notable game on July 7, 1923 season that would go down in the record books. Relieving for starter Curt Fullerton, O'Doul would give up 16 runs over 3 innings of relief, with 14 of those runs coming in the 6th inning alone. Although errors by Joe Sewell and Rube Lutzke would mean that only 3 of the 16 runs were earned, O'Doul would set the major league record for most runs allowed by a reliever in one appearance. This record was equaled by St Louis Cardinals pitcher Johnny Stuart in 1925 and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Dutch Schesler in 1931 (although both needed 8 innings to allow 16 runs). Following the season, he developed a sore arm which forced him to give up pitching. After the 1923 season, the New York Giants returned O'Doul to the Pacific Coast League where he was converted to a power-hitting outfielder.
O'Doul returned to the majors in 1928, where he batted .319 as a platoon player.
1929 Live Ball Season
In 1929, O'Doul was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and, teaming up with Chuck Klein, had one of the best offensive years in baseball history, leading the League in batting at .398 with 254 hits, 32 home runs, 122 runs batted in, and 152 runs scored. His hits total broke the previous National League record of 250 set by Rogers Hornsby of the 1922 St. Louis Cardinals. The record was tied by Bill Terry in 1930, but has yet to be broken. He also finished second in National League Most Valuable Player voting to Rogers Hornsby, who led the Cubs to the pennant. The Lively Ball Debate of 1929, as Lefty O'Doul was flirting with the .400 mark in 1929, Time magazine ran this blurb in their July 29, 1929 issue:
"[The] greatest topic of discussion in baseball this year has been the "lively" or "rabbit" official ball. Experts at playing, watching and writing about the game have become convinced it is the cause of a rise of 50 points in batting averages during recent years, the cause of multifarious homeruns, of double-figure scores. A. G. Spalding & Bros., official ball manufacturers† maintained that the "lively" ball is a myth, that no change had been made since 1909, when the cork centre was introduced. When the New York Telegram, crusading against the "lively" ball, last week produced cross-sections of a 1919 ball and of a 1929 ball to show that the 1929 ball contains a layer of rubber not found in its 1919 ancestor, Julian W. Curtiss, Spalding president, wrote to the Telegram: "Let me assure you that the life of the ball has not been changed since 1920." He left the inference, satisfying to sticklers, that it had been changed between 1919 and 1920."
1930 - 1934
After batting .383 with 22 homers during the 1930 season, he was traded to the Brooklyn Robins.
In 1931, Lefty O'Doul made his first trip to Japan, with a team of major league All-Stars. He made more than 30 trips to that country during his life, spreading the gameof baseball and helping to teach fundamentals. The Tokyo Giants, sometimes considered "Japan's Baseball Team," were named by him in 1935 in honor of his longtime association with the New York Giants; the logo and uniform of the Giants in Japan strongly resembles their North American counterpart. After the conclusion of World War II, General Douglas McArthur asked O'Doul to continue his trips to the Far East, helping to repair relations between the U.S. and Japan.
In 1932, he batted .368 for the Robins (now known as the Dodgers) to win another league batting title.
After a slow start in 1933, when he batted just .252 through 43 games, O'Doul was again traded, this time back to the Giants who were in the middle of the pennant race. O'Doul played regularly, platooning with Jo-Jo Moore and Kiddo Davis in the outfield. But in the World Series, O'Doul did not start. He was essentially viewed as a hitter at this point, and his defense was considered a liability. In Game Two, trailing 1-0, the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth inning. Player/manager Bill Terry waived O'Doul in to pinch hit for Davis. O'Doul lined a pitch from General Crowder into center field, driving in two runs. A few moments later, O'Doul scored from third on a squeeze play. It was his only World Series appearance.
He played just one more year before ending his career in 1934.
O'Doul then returned to the Pacific Coast League as manager of the San Francisco Seals from 1937 to 1951, later managing several other teams in the circuit and becoming the most successful manager in PCL history. One of his outstanding accomplishments while managing the Seals was developing the young Joe DiMaggio, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees. O'Doul refused to take credit for DiMaggio's success, saying "I was just smart enough to leave him alone."
July 23, 1922: Traded by the New York Yankees with Chick Fewster, Elmer Miller, Johnny Mitchell, and $50,000 to the Boston Red Sox for Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith.
October 29, 1928: Traded by the New York Giants with cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for Freddy Leach.
October 14, 1930: Traded by the Philadelphia Phillies with Fresco Thompson to the Brooklyn Robins for Clise Dudley, Jumbo Elliott, Hal Lee, and cash.
The Phillies were a miserable team, and this deal was one of economics. They rid themselves of higher-priced O'Doul and Thompson, and got three players and some much-needed money in return.
June 16, 1933: Traded by the Brooklyn Dodgers with Watty Clark to the New York Giants for Sam Leslie.
February 16, 1935: Released by the New York Giants.
O'Doul was inducted into the San Francisco Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. He has the highest career batting average of any player eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame who is not enshrined. His relatively short career as a full-time batter and the fact that his statistics were accumulated during a period of historically high offensive production in the major leagues are factors militating against his selection to the Hall of Fame.
O'Doul's fame and popularity live on in his hometown of San Francisco. The popular restaurant and bar he founded still operates as Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge on Geary Boulevard, and still serves his original recipe for Bloody Mary (although one news account says it was modified in the 1960s by O'Doul's bartender Chuck Davis, who remained at the bar as of 2009).
Bay Area native Robert Nishihara describes the atmosphere of Lefty O'Doul's Restaurant, which Lefty opened in San Francisco in 1958:
"My Aunt who is a big Giants' fan would take me there as a kid after Giants games. The freshly carved roast beef sandwiches were a big treat, as were the crunchy sourdough rolls they were served on after being generously dipped in piping hot au jus. There was also a big barrel full of whole dill pickles, and patrons were welcomed to pull them fresh from the barrel. All the while, Lefty benevolently watched over us from the myriad of pictures documenting his unique life that covered the walls. Baseball, great food, and San Francisco- even his restaurant couldn't resist the influence of its namesake."
A bridge over McCovey Cove, near the Giants' home field of AT&T Park, is named the Lefty O'Doul Bridge in his honor.