Any player/Any era: Lefty O’Doul

Posted: 23rd December 2010 by Graham Womack in Lefty O'Doul

What he did: My SABR chapter has organized a letter-writing campaign to get O’Doul into the Hall of Fame, which makes sense seeing as we’re the Lefty O’Doul Chapter. We know there’s little chance of getting O’Doul inducted as a player, since he played just 970 games (though he got some support in my recent project to find the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame.) We want to get O’Doul honored as an ambassador to baseball, for his work promoting the game in Japan.

I’m reminded of this since there’s another O’Doul currently on the Hall of Fame ballot, Edgar Martinez. I see many parallels. Both were ineffective early on, O’Doul as a pitcher, Martinez as a third baseman. Each found success around 30 as a hitter. Each made his mark in top hitters parks, O’Doul in the Baker Bowl, Martinez in the Kingdome. Each thrived in a time when hitters ruled baseball.

I think Martinez will eventually make Cooperstown. Though he debuted at 36.2 percent of the vote last year, his numbers seem too good to ultimately ignore, from his .300/.400/.500 splits to his .933 career OPS to his 66.9 WAR. More than that, Martinez redefined the value of a designated hitter, was one of the best bats in baseball at his peak, and seems to have played enough, at 2,055 games, to merit induction. Barring any steroid revelations, he seems like a mid-late ballot selection.

So I got to wondering: What if Lefty O’Doul had a spot in the same Mariners lineup as Martinez?

Era he might have thrived in: We’re taking O’Doul back to the Mariners of the early ’90s, before pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, before Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson blew town. Even if Martinez were to DH, O’Doul could play passable defense and be the left fielder Seattle never really had. He also might hit .400 with this bunch, and, with the right set of circumstances, earn his Hall of Fame plaque.

Why: O’Doul had a couple of things working against him early on. First, he came up in 1919 as a pitcher in the days before baseball had a farm system, and he debuted with a contender, the New York Yankees. In the current game, O’Doul’s strengths would likely be identified and honed long before his first day in the big leagues. If he were a top prospect, a club like the Yankees would also probably ship him to a team like the Mariners for a veteran, as New York did with Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps in 1988.

O’Doul needed a chance to play as a young, failed pitcher, and he got it in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit a combined .369 from 1924 through 1927. He re-emerged in the majors in 1928, hitting .319 with the Giants before becoming a star the following year with the Phillies. O’Doul hit .398 in 1929, and converting that season to the 1996 Mariners, O’Doul would hit .390 with 258 hits, 33 home runs, and 122 runs batted in. I’m proposing this wouldn’t be his first year in Seattle either, that like Griffey and Buhner, O’Doul would start early in the outfield.

The defense wouldn’t be pretty, though looking at O’Doul’s career defensive WAR, I was surprised to see it was only -1.1. Buhner racked up -7.7 defensive WAR playing mostly right field, and Martinez finished with a career defensive WAR of 0.3, largely because he played only 34 games in the field his final ten seasons. O’Doul wouldn’t win any Gold Gloves, but I doubt he’d be costing the Mariners many victories in the field. He’d win at least a few with his bat, since he had 21.1 WAR from 1929 to 1932.

O’Doul was back in the PCL by 1935 at 38 so he could manage his hometown San Francisco Seals. With the Seals defunct and the Giants not in a hitters park or in a league where O’Doul could DH at the end, I don’t know if he leaves Seattle. That’s how Martinez closed things out, and it worked just fine.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

  1. Clark Addison says:

    Y’know, Lefty’s in the Japanese baseball HOF…