I sat down at Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant in San Francisco the other day, ordered an O’Doul’s and sat down to interview Tom O’Doul, Lefty’s cousin. Is that triple déjà vu or what? Today would have been Lefty’s 113th birthday. So, hoist a brew in Lefty’s name, because somewhere up in heaven he’s hitting in the high .300’s and having a great time.
Benefits of a famous cousin: “I didn’t really know who Lefty O’Doul was until I started playing baseball in Little League. Until then, he was just my cousin. When I started playing ball, he started coming around more. One story I love to relate is that Lefty always came to my opening days when I was playing Little League. In 1954, opening day was approaching and my dad told me, “Cousin Frank’s coming to your opener.” And I thought, that’s cool. It was an opportunity for me to walk around and be proud for my cousin, a former major leaguer. So he shows up in a Cadillac with Joe DiMaggio. I’ll never forget the moment, because everyone’s mouth just dropped and stay opened. There was a buzz in the air. But, they were gone five minutes later. I lived off that moment for the next five years, at least.”
Why Lefty loved Japanese baseball so much: “Probably because the way they played the game. I think he liked the purity of it. He appreciated their dedication to the game. They’re very humble people; they’re very polite and I believe he respected that. He was a teacher and a great coach above all, and the Japanese were starved for coaching and knowledge about how to play the game. He actually brought Japanese coaches here to the United States to teach them. And they were extremely pleased to learn from the “Great American”. Lefty was the one who brought Babe Ruth to Japan. They were dying to see Babe and he brought them on his first tour there in 1934. He did three tours to Japan total—in ’31, ’34 and ’49. He’s influenced baseball in Japan in so many ways. In fact, the Tokyo Giants are named the Giants because of their connection with my cousin, who of course played with the NY Giants. In 2002, Lefty was chosen to be in the Japanese Baseball of Fame. He was elected by a special committee. I know Lefty would be so proud and happy to see all of the great Japanese players in the majors right now, like Ichiro and all the others. Lefty envisioned an international game. I hope people remember what Lefty did for that country and its baseball. I believe it ‘s his legacy.”
Lefty’s early days: “He never made it past the 7th grade and he would always push me to finish school, he said. ‘At least graduate from high school,’ he said. He had to drop out of school to go to work as a butcher. His father, his grandfather and his uncles were all butchers. If he hadn’t made it as a baseball player, he would have been a butcher his whole life. People could see right away that Lefty had baseball talent. He had the hand coordination, the great vision and the instincts you need to make it to be a good player. He could play any position he wanted to. In ’37, he was the MVP in the Pacific Coast League as a pitcher. They said he hurt his arm after that year for throwing too hard, but I believe he injured it lifting one too many beers. There was nothing he couldn’t do in the game.”
His relationships with other great players: “O’Doul got along with everyone, including Ty Cobb, which wasn’t easy from what I heard. He loved Babe Ruth and they spent a lot of time together. They both had that great sense of humor, so that’s probably why they got along so well. He was one of those guys who didn’t have a lot of enemies. He wasn’t enamored with most of the umpires and he had no problem telling them if he thought they blew a call. He got threw out of his share of games. But, back then they rode the umps a lot more than they do today.”
The world famous Lefty O’ Doul’s Bloody Mary: “It’s from an original O’Doul family recipe and they’ve served it there since day one. We’re a drinking family and we’ve always been a bunch of drinkers. The O’Doul’s drug of choice is alcohol. Lefty drank bourbon and water and beer. I remember sitting in our yard with my father and my uncle and he was drinking beer. But he liked his bourbon, I remember that. He drank Acme beer in the 1950’s. It was a San Francisco beer and he preferred it. My uncle loved being in bars and talking to people in bars, so opening his own restaurant/bar in his hometown was a logical progression. He loved being a restaurateur and he was very good at it.”