“Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador” by Dennis Snelling
Baseball, biography, Yankees, Giants, minor leagues
May 1, 2017
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Review:Francis “Lefty” O’Doul can be considered a rarity in baseball – while he was an outstanding major league player, retiring with the fourth-highest career batting average in history, it was his work in the minor leagues and in Japan where he truly made a difference in the game. The story of his life in and out of baseball is told in this biography by Dennis Snelling.
O’Doul was raised in the Butchertown section of San Francisco, a tough neighborhood which got its name from the proliferation of butchers and slaughterhouses in the area. O’Doul was destined to follow his father into that business until he was encouraged to use his athletic gifts by his teacher Rose Stolz. It was uncommon for women to be coaching sports at that time in the early 20th century, but she was his coach and O’Doul gave her credit for teaching him the game and mentoring him early in his athletic career.
His career started with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League , which at (PCL)the time was considered close to the equal of the Major Leagues and the highest level of baseball played west of the Mississippi. O’Doul was playing the outfield and pitching, eventually gaining a spot on the New York Yankees, but not succeeding in either position. He set a record during that brief time that still has not been broken – he gave up 13 runs in one inning, the most allowed by a single pitcher in one inning. He was convinced to give up pitching during another stint with the Seals, and this time it proved to be better when he played for the New York Giants, becoming a prolific hitter including a season in which he hit .398 in 1929.
However, despite this success, where O’Doul left his mark in the game was with his coaching and managing, which he did for a few decades for the Seals and San Diego in the PCL. One of his prize pupils was Joe DiMaggio, who gives O’Doul much credit for his success. They stayed friends long after both of their careers were over.
The book’s format has each chapter start with an excerpt describing O’Doul’s biggest accomplishment, and that was the 1949 series of exhibition games between a team of Major League all-stars and Japanese teams played in Japan. This exhibition was notable for several reasons – the countries still had some bitter feelings so soon after World War II, the American players were treated like royalty by the Japanese fans, and General Douglas MacArthur even attended games. O’Doul worked tirelessly to promote the game in Japan, having made several trips there and was in attendance when Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to play in the Major Leagues in 1964.
Given the variances in topics in which to write about O’Doul, I felt that Mr. Snelling did a very good job of piecing all of these aspects of the career of O’Doul and wrote a book that is not only easy to follow with all of these pieces, but is also informative enough that the reader will finish it believing that he or she knows a lot about O’Doul. That was the case for me as I had not known much about the man’s career and certainly not that he was a true ambassador for the game in Japan. After reading this book, I believe that Lefty O’Doul’s story is one that anyone interested in the game’s history, whether in the United States or in Japan, is one that should be read.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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