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FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: Remembering Lefty on a ferry ride

It seems like only a few days ago when my wife suggested that we travel to a Monday Giants game via the Larkspur Ferry. No complaints here. The ferry is a quick trip with no stress, and there are no outrageous parking fees.

We found ourselves sitting next to a family from Petaluma, and I eventually struck up a conversation with a young lad who was brandishing a well-used baseball glove. Turns out he went to Kenilworth Junior High, and his successful Little League season had ended only days earlier.

Our voyage was during the dog days of the season, and the Giants had sweetened the pot with special tickets that would reward my new acquaintance and I with some nosebleed seats and a bobblehead of Lefty O’Doul. It was Pacific Coast League Night and former announcer Don Klein introduced some long-in-the-tooth oldies that I recognized.

Before our vessel docked, I was in this kid’s ear about Lefty and how great he was back in the day. The boy had no idea, other than he remembered a bridge in back of the ball park was named in honor of the former great.

The poor young Petaluman became saddled with my stories about O’Doul, who was still on the marquee of a former bar and cafeteria-style eatery on Geary Street. Lefty also is featured on bottled mixes found in most Petaluma stores.

I suggested that the boy research Lefty O’Doul on the internet. He would have found that the old left-hander was a terrific hitter, and as a manager, he had the most wins in PCL history while mentoring all three DiMaggio brothers, among others.

Back in days of my boyhood, I can remember my dad taking me to a packed Seals Stadium in 1946 for an afternoon ball game when O’Doul’s team finished in first place. Later, I was able to ride the E-Train to Oaks Park in Emeryville when Lefty’s Seals would come to town.

O’Doul has Hall of Fame credentials if his records in the major leagues and the PCL are combined, and it is a shame that the veterans committee has not seen fit to open the doors of the Hall to one of the all-time greats.

Lefty was a career major league hitter with a .349 average, the fourth highest of all time and he was a batting champion in the National League twice. He also spent 16 seasons in the PCL hitting at a rate of .353 but that might be the rub. His standing is not listed in the major league record book because he played in only 970 league games. It might come down to a perception of the Pacific Coast League during the Depression years and that is worth a revisit.

O’Doul has the highest lifetime average for qualified players not in the Hall of Fame. Sandy Koufax in comparison was selected after winning only 165 games.

Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all time, summed it up best in his book My Turn at Bat when he allowed that “Lefty was the first all-time great that I ever saw. The only thing that keeps him out of the Hall of Fame today is that he didn’t play in the major leagues quite long enough. He deserves to be there.”

O’Doul’s credentials for the Hall of Fame are impressive on their own merit. Lefty hit an astounding .398 for the Philadelphia Phillies to lead the National League in batting in 1929. Many regulars hit well under .250 today.

Baseball insiders considered the PCL a third major league. In 1945 San Francisco out drew Cincinnati, Philadelphia and the Boston Braves. Many outstanding players including O’Doul preferred to remain on the west coast because of the milder climates and higher salaries. There was no major league baseball west of St. Louis and the PCL was a model which later received “open” status considered to be the next step toward the majors.

PCL historian Dick Dobbins and nationally recognized sportswriter Red Smith both marveled at the ability of O’Doul to hit a baseball. In his final major league season Lefty routinely hit .316 and never went back.

Maybe the bobble head the young Petaluman and I received on this night might be worth dusting off and displayed in a prominent spot in our homes. Hey, this guy is a HOF candidate by all standards and he was credited for introducing the game to the Japanese as well.

Lefty is worth a second look by the veterans committee.