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Lefty Gomez

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Vernon Louis "Lefty" Gomez (November 26, 1908February 17, 1989) was a Portuguese-American [2][3] left-handed major league pitcher who played in the American League for the New York Yankees between 1930 and 1942. He was born in Rodeo, California and played sandlot baseball in Oakland while attending Richmond High School. It was during that timeframe that he was recruited by the San Francisco Seals.[1] The New York Yankees purchased Lefty from the Seals for an estimated $39,000.[2]

MarriageEdit

On 26 February 1933,[3][4] Lefty married June O’Dea (born Eilean Frances Schwarz on 18 December 1912 in Revere, Massachusetts; died 5 December 1992 in Novato, California [5]). A Broadway headliner who starred in Of Thee I Sing, she gave up her career in 1936. By 1937 the marriage was on shaky ground. Apparently in an effort to rekindle their relationship, they sailed to Bermuda in January, returning to New York aboard the Monarch of Bermuda on the twenty-seventh.[6] It evidently didn’t help much, as Lefty traveled to Hollywood that April and June returned to Massachusetts to stay with family. Through the tabloids, she learned in December that Lefty was filing divorce papers in Mexico, charging incompatibility. Being a devout Catholic, June refused a divorce but agreed to a formal separation, citing abandonment and cruel and inhuman treatment.[7] Publically, Lefty said the whole idea of divorce was absurd, but after the first of the year he moved to Reno to get a six-week divorce. It was his intention for the divorce to be finalized by the time he began spring training in Florida.[8] Separation proceedings continued for months, but was called off in May 1938.[9] Lefty and June went on to have two daughters, Vernona and Sharon, and one son named Gary.[10]

CareerEdit

A 20-game winner four times and an All-Star every year from 1933 to 1939, Gomez led the league twice each in wins, winning percentage and ERA, and three times each in shutouts and strikeouts. In the historic first major league All-Star Game (July 6, 1933), Gomez not only was the winning pitcher for the American League, but also drove in the first run of the game. This was out of character for him, as he was, even by the standards of pitchers, notorious for poor hitting. "I never broke a bat until I was 73 years old," he said. "And that was from backing the car out of the garage."

1934 was considered Lefty's best season, as he won 26 games a lost just five. In both 1934 and 1937, he won pitching's "Triple Crown" by leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts; he also led the AL both seasons in shutouts. His .649 career winning percentage ranks 15th in major league history among pitchers with 200 or more decisions; and among pitchers who made their ML debut from 1900-1950, only Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson and Whitey Ford have both more victories and a higher winning percentage than Gomez.

Gomez also set a pair of World Series records: winning six games without a loss (1932-1, 1936-2, 1937-2, 1938-1); and most walks received by a batter in the same inning (6th, on October 6, 1937).

In one game, he came up to bat when it was slightly foggy. Bob Feller was on the mound and Gomez struck a match before stepping into the batter's box. "What's the big idea?" growled the umpire. "Do you think that match will help you see Feller's fast one?" "No, I'm not concerned about that," Lefty said. "I just want to make sure he can see me!"

Another example of Gomez' quick wit came with a group of reporters. Noted for his accurate and frequent brushback pitches (also known as "throwing" at the hitter), one of the reporters asked Gomez- "Is it true that you'd throw at your own mother." Gomez replied- "you're damn right I would, she's a good hitter." (This has also been said of Early Wynn.)

In another game, in 1937, he tried the patience of Tony Lazzeri, who had been lauded recently in the newspapers as a heads-up player, as well as that of his manager Joe McCarthy. Lefty was on the mound when a batter hit a grounder back to him; instead of throwing to Frank Crosetti at shortstop, to start a double play, he threw to second-baseman Lazzeri, who caught the ball in self-defense. "why the hell did you throw the ball to me?" Tony asked. "Tony," Gomez answered, "All I've been hearing is what a smart player you are. I just wanted to see what you would do with the ball if you got it when you didn't expect it." Joe McCarthy stomped to the mound, fuming mad. "What's the big idea of throwing to Lazzeri?" he demanded. With a straight face, Lefty said, "I forgot which Italian to throw to. With Crosetti at short and Lazzeri at second, I couldn't think of which Italian to throw to." McCarthy angrily pointed to center field and said, "It's lucky you didn't see Joe DiMaggio!"

In 1940, Lefty suffered an arm injury, which left him up for grabs by another team, but in 1941 he played fairly well, winning 15 and losing 5. During that season, he was said to be a great starting pitcher, but won through the support of Johnny Murphy, who relieved him in later innings. After the 1942 season ended, Lefty took a job as a dispatcher with the General Electric River Works, a defense plant in Lynn, Massachusetts, which only paid $40 a week. Then on January 27, 1943, the Yankees sold Lefty to the Boston Braves for $10,000.[11]

It is sad that Lefty never appeared in a game with the Braves Casey Stengel was manager) as later in the year he was released from his contract and signed with the Washington Senators. He pitched just one game before retiring from the game. In his career, almost entirely spent with the Yankees, he had a 189-102 record with 1468 strikeouts and a 3.34 ERA in 2503 innings pitched. He shares the Yankee record with Bob Shawkey and Red Ruffing with 4 20-win seasons, and holds the Yankee record for most seasonal wins by a lefthander with 26 in 1934. Known for his great wit, Gomez often remarked, "I'd rather be lucky than good." He was both.

After baseballEdit

In retirement, Gomez became a sought-after dinner speaker known for his humorous anecdotes about his playing days and the personalities he knew. He was a bit of a screwball, nicknamed "El Goofy", and delighted in playing practical jokes on everyone from teammates to umpires. He once stopped a World Series game to watch an airplane fly overhead. He came up with the idea of a revolving goldfish bowl to make life easier for older goldfish.

During the 1960s, he often coached children at the Carquinez Grammar School in Crockett, which is situated just east of Rodeo. At thet time, Rodeo didn't have a school but he wanted to do something for the kids. Pushing sixty, he had not lost his sense of humor and entertained the children as much with his anecdotes as his coaching and lectures on sportsmanship.[12] On one occasion, Joe Grokett, a first grade student, decided to steal first base, which he did, zigzagging arounnd the outfield with the base close to his chest until the other kids caught up with him. They pounded him half to death while Lefty, seated calmly on the bleachers, monitored the incident with interest. After the beating, Lefty waved Grokett over to him to lecture him on good sportsmanship. Grokett listened intently, and then remarked to the veteran ballplayer, "Shouldn't you be telling that to them?"[13] On February 2, 1972, the Veterans Committee selected Lefty Gomez for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Giants outfielder Ross Youngs and former American League President Will Haridge. The Committee noted that Lefty pitched in five World Series games and never lost one. Wearing a Yankee cap, Gomez became the 2nd Hispanic player (of Hispanic descent) to be inducted.

On August 2, 1987, he and Whitey Ford were honored with plaques to be placed in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Gomez's plaque says he was "Noted for his wit and his fastball, as he was fast with a quip and a pitch." Despite advancing age, he was able to attend the ceremony. Although he was honored with the plaque, his uniform #11 has not been retired, and has since been worn by Joe Page, Johnny Sain, Hector Lopez, Fred Stanley, Dwight Gooden, Chuck Knoblauch, Gary Sheffield, Doug Mientkiewicz, Morgan Ensberg and Brett Gardner.

Lefty spent the last years of his life in Novato, California, and died of congestive heart failure on February 17, 1989, in Marin General Hospital in Larkspur.[14] A decade later, he ranked #73 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Vernon's memory and history is kept alive by his daughter Vernona.

See alsoEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. Lloyd J. Gomez Obituary, Oakland Tribune, 20 Jan 1960, p. 29.
  2. Fraley, Oscar. Yanks Sell Lefty Gomez to Bees; Price is $10,000. The Modesto Bee, 27 Jan 1943, p. 8.
  3. Memory Lane. The Lowell Sun, p. 7. “Five years ago Vernon Gomez, New York Yankees’ southpaw pitcher, married June O’Dea, actress.”
  4. Gomez Wife to Fight Divorce Suit. The Lowell Sun, 27 Dec 1937.
  5. [1] California Death Records
  6. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, 27 Jan 1937, Monarch of Bermuda, list of passengers.
  7. To Fight Divorce. The Lowell Sun, 28 Dec 1937, No. 301.
  8. Gomez Would Speed Divorce Plans. The Lowell Sun, 3 Jan 1938, p. 10.
  9. Lefty and Wife Call Off Suit. Nevada State Journal. 9 May 1928, Vol. LXVII, No. 182.
  10. Durso, Joseph. Vernon (Lefty) Gomez, 80, Dies; Starred as a Pitcher for the Yankees. New York Times, 18 Feb 1989.
  11. Fraley, Oscar. Yanks Sell Lefty Gomez to Bees; Price is $10,000. The Modesto Bee, 27 Jan 1943, p. 8.
  12. Joseph P. Grokett, personal encounter.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Durso, Joseph. Vernon (Lefty) Gomez, 80, Dies; Starred as a Pitcher for the Yankees. New York Times, 18 Feb 1989; SSDI: 131034188; California Death Index, 1905-1995.

External linksEdit

Template:1932 New York Yankees Template:1936 New York Yankees Template:1937 New York Yankees Template:1938 New York Yankees Template:1939 New York Yankees Template:1972 Baseball HOF Template:Pitchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame


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