Thursday, May 9, 2013


All aboard the Baseball Reliquary
"magic bus"...
The second-highest vote-getter in the 15th Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals ballot is Francis (Lefty) O'Doul, the colorful, late-blooming hitting star who became a profound force in the introduction and development of baseball in Japan.

O'Doul had too short of a major league career and spent too much of his later life managing in his home town of San Francisco at a time when that city was a minor league baseball town to be given serious consideration for Cooperstown, so (once again) the Reliquary voters have found a seam in the selection process and driven the Reliquary bus (shown in black & white above at left in order to spare the squeamish....) right through it.

Lefty O'Doul arriving in Japan in 1954, along with some obscure couple...
O'Doul combines peak performance (something generally maligned in neo-sabermetrics) with the cachet and resumé of a pioneer, and it's not surprising to discover that the Reliquary voters inducted him on only his second time on the ballot.

We love him, too, but not only for the reasons already listed. We fondly recall our old All-Star Baseball™ days with the inimitable Brock Hanke and several other merry pranksters from a period not too far removed from the picture at top left. As we assembled our fondly remembered and carefully preserved squad (named, of course, the Cynics), we became enamored with the Lefty O'Doul disk that Ethan Allen's minions had mis-measured...instead of the disk being a representation of Lefty's lifetime totals, the disk was close to being a replication of his stellar 1929 season, in which he led the National League with 254 hits (still the league record) and a .398 batting average.

Given the way O'Doul was known to play the OF, you could almost
believe that he was the greatest one-legged hitter of all time...
We used to beat the snot out of that league, in no small part due to that O'Doul disk. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end, up in a small attic room sequestered (before that, too, became a dirty word...) from the ruffians in our college dorm. Lefty had a penchant for big games (as a look at his game logs at Forman et fil will show, that was also true in real life....) and there were several occasions where we had to scoop up the disk to protect it from harm when O'Doul had come up with his fourth hit of the game, often a two-run double pushing the surly Cynics back into the lead.

Along with Harry Heilmann, O'Doul is the guy who came closest to hitting .400 in a season without doing so. Looking at the 1929 game logs, we can see that it was the month of June that doomed his effort: he hit just .294 that month, while hitting over .400 in all of the others. He made a mad rush toward .400 in the final week of the season, hitting just over .550 in his last nine games. If he'd gotten one more hit in the second game of that doubleheader on 10/5/29, he'd have made it. (He'd already gone 4-for-4 in Game One.)

Since we are in a digressive mode here, let's toss up a question for any of our discerning readers out there...can anyone explain why the 1929 Phillies had five days off at the end of the year before playing a doubleheader on the final day of the season? The entire NL schedule over the last week of the '29 season is simply bizarre as or two games played a day, with the entire league sidestepping its way to the end of the year. Anyone know what the rationale for this was? Was there a massive rainstorm over the Midwest and East Coast? Or had some wacky tobacky infiltrated the NL schedulers' office during the previous winter??

O'Doul became a fixture in his hometown, managing the San Francisco Seals for 17 years and opening an eponymous restaurant (no, that's not a fancy synonym for "vegetarian"...) that is still in operation today. The food is sometimes compared to O'Doul's fielding skills, but like its namesake it is long on goes there for the companionship, not the cuisine.

We should also note that Lefty O'Doul was the first American to be inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Japan is a place that honors pioneers, even those from another country. O'Doul's thousands of hours spent in Japan had a huge payoff, paving the way for the international game that we have today.

So it's safe to say that the Reliquary voters are 2-for-2 thus far...but what will you make of their #1 choice? Stay tuned...