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Does This Yankee Belong in the Hall-of-Fame? Lefty O’Doul

by Paul Semendinger

November 22, 2021

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I will be taking a look at the former Yankees being considered for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

FROM THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME (I highlighted the former Yankees in bold):

(COOPERSTOWN, NY) – The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum today announced the 10-person ballots that will be considered by its Early Baseball Era Committee and Golden Days Era Committee for Hall of Fame election for the Class of 2022. These Era Committees will both meet on Dec. 5 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla. Seven Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues legends and three American League/National League stars comprise the 10-name Early Baseball Era ballot, which features candidates whose primary contribution to the game came prior to 1950. The Golden Days Era Committee considers candidates whose primary contribution to the game came from 1950-69. The Early Baseball Era ballot includes Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Vic Harris, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Allie Reynolds and George “Tubby” Scales. All of these candidates are deceased. The Golden Days Era ballot includes Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minnie Miñoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills. Of this group, Kaat, Oliva and Wills are living. The results of the Early Baseball Era Committee vote and the Golden Days Era Committee vote will be announced live on MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight” at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 5.

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In this article, I will look at the candidacy of Lefty O’Doul.

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Lefty O’Doul was an amazing baseball player who influenced the game, and the Yankees, in ways that today many don’t remember, but that influence came after his playing days. Let’s first look at O’Doul as a player.

Lefty O’Doul reached the Major Leagues as a pitcher with the Yankees. He was a pitcher, though, who could hit so he also acted as a pinch hitter quite often.

In 1919, O’Doul pitched in three games, played outfield in one, and pinch hit 15 times. (He batted .250).

In 1920, he pitched in two games, played outfield once, and pinch hit 10 times. (He batted .167).

O’Doul didn’t play in the big leagues in 1921, but in 1922, he appeared in six games as a pitcher and as a pinch hitter in two others.

As a Yankee, O’Doul put up the following numbers:

As a hitter: .243 batting average, with no homers

As a pitcher: 0-0, 3.65 in 11 games and 24.2 innings

O’Doul was then part of the trade with the Red Sox that brought “Jumping” Joe Dugan to the Yankees. (He was a “player to be named later” in that deal.)

Lefty O’Doul pitched in 23 games for the 1923 Red Sox. He went 1-1, 5.43. He also hurt his arm. He returned to his home in San Francisco and it seemed his Major League career was over.

The years ticked by…

1924

1925

1926

1927

During this time, O’Doul played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He hit a bunch. He hit enough to gain the attention of John McGraw of the New York Giants and he eventually returned to the big leagues. He’d play for the Giants (1928), Philadelphia Phillies (1929-30), Brooklyn Dodgers (Robins) (1931-33), and the Giants (again) (1933-34).

When he returned as a 31-year-old in 1928, O’Doul went on a hitting spree that was something special:

1928: .319/8/46

1929: .398/32/122

1930: ..383/22/97

1931: ..336/7/75

1932: ..368/21/90

1933: .284/14/56

1934: ..316/9/46

And then that was that.

For five seasons, Lefty O’Doul was amazing. From 1928 through 1932, he batted .365/90/430. Wow!

He led the league in hitting twice (1929 and 1932) and his 254 hits in one season is still (tied) for the most in any season in National League history.

Still, we have to put those years in context. While O’Doul hit the cover off the ball, it is true that many players were hitting a ton in those days. O’Doul’s seasons look less impressive overall when one looks at his yearly WAR over that period:

1928: 1.4

1929: 7.4

1930: 4.7

1931: 3.5

1932: 6.3

Good, not great. Two really special years in total.

Still, the Baseball Hall-of-Fame honors people who are legacies to the game. And, in addition to those great seasons, O’Doul was an ambassador to the game and a legendary figure in San Francisco.

Of note, Lefty O’Doul:

Managed in the Pacific Coast League for over 20 years (It must be noted that the years he managed (and played) in the Pacific Coast League, it was considered as a league that was on par, or close to Major League level. In those years, the PCL was a very respected league as there was no Major League Baseball west of the Mississippi.)

It is said, he won more than 2,000 games (Baseball-Reference’s stats are incomplete but have him at 1,539 wins with six seasons without totals. In the 17 seasons listed, he averaged 90.5 wins per season.)

He was a legendary hitting instructor who tutored Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey (among others)

He helped popularize baseball in Japan through his many tours there where he showcased and taught the game to the Japanese (it is said that the Tokyo Giants were named by O’Doul) and helped found the Nippon Professional League. O’Doul is in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

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All told, Lefty O’Doul makes an interesting case. If one feels that the Baseball Hall of Fame should be a place for baseball to celebrate its most impactful personalities and people, along with the great players, then O’Doul certainly fits the part. He was a great player for a short period and he was also an important good will ambassador of the sport.

Imagine baseball history without Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Sadaharu Oh, and even Ichiro Suzuki… O’Doul’s impact directly or indirectly impacted them and countless others.

As a player, I think Lefty O’Doul falls short, but as an important part of baseball’s story, I believe he deserves to be enshrined. Lefty O’Doul was a baseball pioneer. He should be recognized as such.

If I had a vote, I’d vote YES for Lefty O’Doul.

#LeftyODoul

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