Francis Joseph “Lefty” O’Doul, born March 4, 1897 in San Francisco, made his professional baseball debut in 1918 as a left-handed pitcher with the minor league San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He pitched briefly in the big leagues, making his major league debut on April 29, 1919 for the New York Yankees. He played sporadically for both the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox from until 1923. He returned to the PCL in 1924 and converted to a power-hitting outfielder after suffering an arm injury.
O’Doul returned to the big leagues in 1928 when John McGraw signed him to the New York Giants. That season, he batted .319 in 354 at-bats. In 1929, O’Doul was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and had one of the best offensive years in baseball history, batting a league-leading .398, with 254 hits, 32 home runs, 122 RBIs and 152 runs scored. He was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 and hit .368 en route to another batting title. He ended his career in 1934 with the New York Giants. O’Doul compiled a .349 batting average with 113 home runs and 542 RBIs in 11 major league seasons.
But O’Doul’s story did not end with his playing days. He returned to San Francisco in 1935 and enjoyed a hugely successful career as manager of his hometown Seals. He remained with San Francisco until 1951, winning pennants in 1935, 1946 and 1947. Among the players that O’Doul mentored included the young Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. He went on to manage Pacific Coast League teams in San Diego, Oakland, Vancouver and Seattle.
Starting in the early 1930s, O’Doul began making trips as a goodwill ambassador to Japan to assist with fostering baseball in that country. In 1931, he travelled with Lou Gehrig, Al Simmons and several other major league players. In 1932, he was in the company of Washington Senator Moe Berg and White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons. In 1934, O’Doul was part of the biggest delegation of ballplayers ever to visit Japan. This team included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.
In 1949, after World War II ended, O’Doul once again served as baseball’s ambassador to Japan, bringing with him a team of Seals players. General Douglas MacArthur called the historic tour “the greatest piece of diplomacy ever…”
In 1958, O’Doul opened Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant & Lounge near Union Square in downtown San Francisco. He spent considerable time at the restaurant and was known about town as “The Man in the Green Suit” for the bright green sport jacket that he wore on a daily basis.
O’Doul was inducted into the Bay Area Hall of Fame in 1981 and into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.
He passed away on Dec. 7, 1969 at the age of 72 in his hometown of San Francisco.
The SABR Biography Project also has a biography of Lefty O’Doul, written by Brian McKenna.