Many voters tend to weigh a player's statistics rather than measure them. If a player is very good for a long period of time his chances of getting elected are better than someone whose career was great but did not last as long. Such is the case for Lefty O’Doul. If you simply look at his major league statistics, you might think, “OK, so what, he only played in 970 games and only hit only 113 home runs in 11 seasons”. Well, he did win two batting titles (1929 & 1932) and in 1929 he batted .398 when he set a National League record with 254 hits.
In the same year, he finished second in National League MVP voting behind Rogers Hornsby who “only” hit .381. And in 1932 he hit .368 and finished third in National League MVP voting behind Chuck Klein (.348) and Lon Warneke (pitcher with a 22/6 record). His .349 lifetime batting average is fourth in baseball history for players with more than 900 games played. He was also a member of the first National League All-Star team in 1933.
The Baseball Hall of Fame not only honors statistically strong players, which arguably includes O’Doul, but also those who have contributed the advancement of baseball including executives, managers, and umpires. One example is Buck O’Neil who was voted into the Hall in 2022 as an Executive (Negro Leagues). He had a relatively brief but good playing career, he had a pioneering career as a black coach, and was a major contributor to black ball players as an ambassador for negro leagues baseball. Similar qualifications such as these can clearly be applied to Lefty O’Doul.
When it comes to being a baseball ambassador, O’Doul was second to none. Following the 1931 season, O'Doul joined a group of major leaguers who barnstormed around Japan, bringing baseball culture to that country. A born teacher, he returned every year during the thirties to instruct the Japanese on the finer points of the game. O’Doul wrote a manual that outlined the principles for creating a baseball team, including drills, basics of uniforms, and game strategy. As a result, O'Doul was instrumental in spreading baseball's popularity in Japan, serving as the sport's goodwill ambassador before and after World War II. Before O’Doul, Japan did not have an organized professional league, their coaches did not fully understand the methods for teaching pitching and hitting, which Lefty freely shared with them.
Within a few years, the Japanese Baseball League was founded, and after an interruption of relations by the world war, O’Doul returned to the country several times in the 1950s where he was regarded as a legend. His batting techniques were taught to generations of Japanese ballplayers. Without the efforts of O’Doul, who knows if the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Sadaharu Oh, Daisuke Matsuzaka or Yu Darvish would have ever been exposed to the great game of basebal. In 2002, Lefty became the only American to be enshrined in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1934, despite batting .316, O’Doul retired from the major leagues when his hometown San Francisco Seals offered him a job as player-manager with a salary reputed to be $4,150 more than he was making as a major league player. He spent more than two decades in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) as a player-manager or manager. Lefty won more than 2,000 games in the league, and remained with San Francisco until 1951, winning pennants in 1935, 1946 and 1947. Among the players that O’Doul mentored included the young Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. O’Doul went on to manage PCL teams in San Diego, Oakland, Vancouver and Seattle.
O’Doul we adept at spotting talent. As the story goes, O’Doul was managing the San Francisco Seals in 1937 when a skinny 18-year-old kid playing for San Diego approached him before a game and asked how he could become a better hitter. O’Doul, having only seen the player take batting practice and play one game, said “Kid, don’t ever let anyone change your swing.” That kid was eighteen-year-old Ted Williams and O'Doul was one of the first to spot his potential for greatness. Williams, in turn, was a great admirer of O'Doul's and in 1941, the year he hit .406, Williams used a Lefty O'Doul model bat. O’Doul also received credit helping a young Joe DiMaggio develop into a premier hitter and Hall of Famer. Once, years after Joe had become a superstar and someone was trying to give Lefty credit at an awards banquet, O’Doul said, “I was just smart enough to leave Joe alone.” O’Doul helped many a players make it into the big leagues but he was wise and humble enough to know when hitters needed coaching and when they did not. His general philosophy was “don’t fix what ain’t broken”.
O’Doul was inducted into the San Francisco Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and into the the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 2013.
“No one ever did more as an ambassador for the game; no one was ever a better teacher of the game, especially of the art of hitting; and no one was a better example of perseverance for the way in which, as a failed, sore-armed pitcher, he went back to the minor leagues, turned himself into an elite hitter, returned to the big leagues and compiled one of the best career batting averages of all-time. If those accomplishments don't add up to Hall of Fame credentials then I must be missing something.” (Dick Flavin, bestselling author and; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate")