Lefty Gomez is both one of the best-known and one of the least-known stars in baseball history. To the public and press, he was “El Goofo,” a unique combination of high-velocity fastball, affable eccentricity, and irreverent wit; a free spirit and natural clown who was so relaxed on the mound that he paused during a World Series game to watch an airplane fly over the Polo Grounds…His friends and teammates, however, knew a far different person. And a more complex one. Lefty Gomez was widely considered the glue of the Yankee clubhouse throughout the 1930’s…Teammates confided in him and asked his advice…
Prologue to Lefty: An American Odyssey
When I think of the New York Yankee’s of the 1930’s only two names come to mind: Gerhig and Ruth. Granted there is DiMaggio as well but with a solid and full of stories, lore, and history book, Vernona Gomez and Lawrence Goldstone, have done a great job of introducing me to another key player of that Yankee dynasty – Vernon “Lefty” Gomez.
To be published by Ballentine Books next month, Lefty: An American Odyssey takes the reader on a world wide journey of baseball and life which begins in Rodeo, California, northeast of San Francisco, in 1908 when and where Gomez was born to a working class family. His competitive nature asserts itself as he begins to play baseball in fields that are barely diamonds, the school teams, then semi-pro teams and then, given the fact that the closest major league city of that day was St. Louis, with the famous and highly talented San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Gomez (his daughter) and Goldstone then chronicle his purchase by the Yankees and his introduction to New York and his rise to fame.
The picture they paint of Gomez is, I believe, a human one. They tell story after story of Gomez’s wit and charm in the clubhouse and on the streets of New York and elsewhere. But they also share the dark side: the sudden and mysterious “divorce” to June O’Dea and the later in life battle with alcohol.
Along the way, Gomez and Goldstone take the reader on a journey literally around the world, that begins with a trip by Gomez, Ruth, and a host of other baseball greats to Japan to play against the top line Japanese teams. And then, as Gomez’s arm begins to wear out, we follow him down the path of decreased effectiveness and then his unconditional release by the Yankees in 1943.
I liked this book for a couple of reasons. First, it gave me a peek at baseball on the American West Coast in the early decades of the twentieth century. By the time I was born, the Dodgers and the Giants had just left New York for LA and SF and had yet to play their first season there and the shape of west coast baseball was to forever change. But teams like the Seals and the Hollywood Stars were the drawing card to west coast and western baseball back then.
Second, Gomez’s story is well told. The names and places he knew and went, read like a ‘who’s who’ list of American personalities and events. It is rich in detail and scope as the reader takes a stroll through eight decades of American, and world, history. And even when he died nearly 50 years after his playing days were done, the outpouring of love and respect, even by the neighbor kids, tells you something about this man and his love of people and the game he played.
On my very unscientific rating scale, I rate this book an ‘outstanding’ read.
Note: I received and advanced reader copy of this book via the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.