By Tom Knight
Brooklyn Baseball Historian
Recently we wrote a column about my late friend Buddy Hassett and the fine career he had with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves and New York Yankees. Buddy told me an interesting story about the first time he walked into Ebbets Field.
“I borrowed an old gabardine green suit from my father and I thought I looked pretty sharp,” he said. “What a razzing I took from my teammates! ‘Look at the man in the green suit,’ someone yelled. ‘I hope he can hit like the other guy in the green suit!’”
They were referring, of course, to another great Brooklyn favorite of the early 1930s, the late Lefty O’Doul, who was known as “the man in the green suit.” No more green suits for Buddy!
Frank “Lefty” O’Doul, a smiling Irishman from San Francisco, had an unusual baseball career. Had he not started out as a pitcher, he may well have made the Hall of Fame as a hitter.
Lefty was up and down with the New York Yankees for three seasons, from 1919 to 1922. He appeared in a few games with no decisions and, in his final year, in 1923, he won one game and lost one with the Boston Red Sox. The 6-foot, 180-pound pitcher returned to the Pacific Coast League. A sore arm convinced him that his pitching days were over.
Lefty became an outfielder and had a talent for hitting. In a few seasons, he was one of the best hitters on the coast. He was signed by the New York Giants for the 1928 season.
In his first year in the National League, he hit .319.
On Oct. 29, 1928, Giants Manager John McGraw, who thought O’Doul was slow and over the hill (he was 32), traded him to the Phillies along with some cash for outfielder Freddy Leach. This had to be one of the worst trades in history.
Leach soon faded from the scene and, in 1929, the Phillies had a batting champ! O’Doul hit .398 and had a record 254 hits! (That 254 mark was tied in 1930 when the Giants’ Bill Terry hit .401.) O’Doul did not do as well in 1930 — he batted .383!
In those days, the Phillies always needed money and owner Bill Baker traded O’Doul and Fresco Thompson to Brooklyn for a bundle of cash and pitchers Jumbo Elliott and Clise Dudley, as well as outfielder Hal Lee.
O’Doul was very popular with the fans in Brooklyn and, in 1932, he won his second batting crown! His 219 hits were good for a .318 average!
On June 16, 1933, O’Doul and pitcher Watson Clark were traded to the Giants for first baseman Sambo Leslie. This was a break for O’Doul, as the Giants went on to win the N.L. pennant and then win the World Series over Washington in five games. O’Doul was only called upon once as a pinch hitter. He delivered a single to drive in two runs and help win Game 2.
It’s nice to close out a career on top. That’s what he did after the 1933 World Series. He returned to San Francisco to manage the Seals and a young player named Joe DiMaggio. He also ran a fine restaurant in his hometown for many years. I had lunch there a few times.
Lefty O’Doul was 72 when he died on Dec. 7, 1969.