Lefty Gomez was a once in millennia personality. With his high leg kick and dazzling fast ball he headlined the era of the 1930’s with all the flare and bravado that defined American confidence. Lefty was a shooting star to be admired for all his brightness, sheer talent, and force of nature. Gomez was keen on doing things his way and his way only. He played fourteen seasons, almost entirely as a New York Yankee. The “Gay Caballero” as he was fondly monikered was the antithesis of the stone faced establishment of the New York Yankees of the time. He often took pride in ruffling the feathers of Yankees canonized manager Joe McCarthy. His best friend Joe Dimaggio received the brunt of the pitching greats loving abuse. Others often quipped that perhaps Lefty not only marched to his own drum, but trumpet, piano, and violin. Lefty’s eccentric take on life made him an instant media darling because of his oddball quotes. Reporters loved talking to him because of his sharp wit and off color humor that translated well to print. A reporter commenting on Gomez’s uncanny ability to accurately brush back a hitter in the batter’s box asked Gomez if he would throw at his own mother. Gomez without pause answers “Yes, she’s a darn good hitter.” He was just plain hilarious if not infuriating. No one and nothing was sacred when it came to Lefty’s pranks. The Yankee great even let his capricious nature seep into the game itself. He intentionally fielded and threw the ball to the wrong base just to goose his teammate second baseman Tony Lazzeri. Apparently Gomez read an article prior to the game that touted Lazzeri as an intelligent baseball player with proficient knowledge of fielding. An incest Lazzeri wanted an explanation for the errant throw by Gomez, Gomez calmly 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.” On another occasion he interrupted the flow of a World Series game to admire a passing by plane.
Lefty was in a sense a walking show that left fans guessing what act would be next. Gomez is the owner of ironic stats that further play into his aura of unpredictability. In the inaugural All Star game (July 6, 1933) Gomez a notoriously poor hitter, drove in the first run during that first ever All Star game. Lefty also was the game’s winning pitcher to boot. “El Goofy” was the nickname that Gomez received halfway into his career and he seemed proud of it. Proud and accepting of himself was an undeniable characteristic of Lefty’s personal approach. He was aware of how good he was but at the same time knew his own limitations. In a fog-filled outing Gomez approached the mound against fire ball slinging pitching legend, Bob Feller, the only thing was Gomez had a lit match in hand. A mystified umpire asked Gomez if the light would help him see Feller’s fast ball better, Gomez answered: “No, I’m not concerned about that, I just want to make sure he can see me!” That was classic Gomez, a showman who wore his honesty on his sleeve, faults and all. As he aged and the twilight of his career approached he had to modify his hard throwing style and became a finesse pitcher. He didn’t let this drastic diminishment in the innate skills that made him a young dynamo get him down though. Again acceptance and self deprecating humor was his medicine. He spoke on the issue:”I’m throwing as hard as I ever did, but the ball is just not getting there as fast.” Gomez confounded hitters with a newly acquired slow curve and had a comeback for the ages in 1941 (15-5) after a 3-3 mark in 1940, leading the league in winning percentage (750).
Statistically Gomez was among the top pitchers of his era. He pulled off an impressive pitching Triple Crown season twice in his career, 1934 and 1937. Those years he led the league in strikeouts, ERA, and wins. He entered Major League baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1972. Gomez’s final numbers read as follows 189 wins, 102 losses, 1468 strikeouts, a 3.34 career ERA, Seven All Star appearances, 5 World Series rings, and a 6-0 World Series starting record.
Lefty’s legend grew more profound as time went by. He was attributed with the quote “I’d rather be lucky than good” and pondered the idea of a revolving goldfish bowl to make life easier for older goldfish. He definitely left his mark on baseball, a “Lefty” mark if you will.
Important side notes: Real name: Louis Vernon Gomez. Born in Rodeo, California, November 26, 1908 and passed February 17, 1989. Playing # 11 (not retired by the New York Yankees) Height 6-2 Weight” 170 lbs.
Gomez is of Mexican ancestry and was the second Hispanic player named to the baseball Hall of Fame.
Odd side notes: After pitching only one game for the Washington Senators in 1943, Gomez retired and was astonishingly drafted into the U.S. Military in 1944 at the age of 36.