Lefty: An American Odyssey
Vernon “Lefty” Gomez, one of the greatest pitchers in New York Yankees history, came on the scene at roughly the same time as Dizzy Dean; statistically speaking, he was even better. But the Arkansas-born Dean had an extra bit of folksy charm that made him the darling of the media. Gomez, although certainly a colorful character and one any ballplayer would love to have as a teammate, never seemed to get his due. His daughter, Vernona, and co-author Lawrence Goldstone seek to correct that oversight with this charming, lighthearted and overdue biography.
"Gomez, although certainly a colorful character and one any ballplayer would love to have as a teammate, never seemed to get his due. His daughter, Vernona, and co-author Lawrence Goldstone seek to correct that oversight with this charming, lighthearted and overdue biography. "
Like many of his contemporaries who played in the first third of the 20th century, Gomez grew up in relative, if not abject, poverty and made good money plying his trade during the Depression. He wooed and won the love of June O’Dea, a chorus girl/actress, and they enjoyed the kind of lifestyle you might see in the slapstick movies of the era (including a more serious time when divorce was a fleeting possibility because of his alleged philandering).
Gomez --- who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1972 --- was only 34 when he pitched in his final game (for the Washington Senators in 1943), which means Vernona was only three years old. She never got to see her famous father pitch. According to the authors, “To the reporters, Lefty was all good copy and buoyant optimism.” In that regard, there is as much --- if not more --- of Gomez’s relationship with teammates and celebrities than the usual on-field stories and statistics.
Since you’re an ex-professional athlete more years than an active one, a good deal of the book deals with Gomez in retirement. He kept his hand in baseball for a few years as a coach, then worked as a representative/speaker for Wilson Sporting Goods. In one of the more intimate --- if very brief --- moments, the reader learns of his battle with alcoholism. Of course, no one is immune to the foibles of life, so the Gomez family had their share of health crises and other setbacks.
Given that his daughter gets top billing as author, one would expect more in the way of personal anecdotes. But there is amazingly little by way of information about her relationship with her father and almost nothing written in the first person: no “my mom and dad…” or “we.” (One incident has a man, unaware of her identity, trying to impress Vernona by “introducing” her to Gomez at a formal function; she went along with the ruse, greeting Gomez with a “Hi, dad.”)
Despite this somewhat important omission, LEFTY is a charming story about one of the long-forgotten stars of the game.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on June 8, 2012