Year Inducted: 1972 (Veterans Committee)
When Jose Fernandez tragically died earlier this year, it was a near catastrophic loss. Not just due to his abilities, as he was probably the top right hander in the NL. Not just due to his philanthropic endeavors (which were tremendous) both here and in his native Cuba. Not just the fact that he was probably a modern day Roberto Clemente with how he combined both parts of his life (baseball and philanthropy). He was constantly having fun. Fernandez taught players young and old that it was OK to joke around on the field and in the dugout. It’s a kids’ game, play it like one. Baseball doesn’t have many of those types left, and it’s important to remember their enthusiasm for the game and life. Historically, baseball has had players like King Kelly and Bob Uecker, but probably the guy most remembered for having fun (and being a bit of a screwball himself) was Lefty Gomez.
Gomez, dubbed among other things “Goofy” due to his personality, was a great pitcher for 14 years, all but one of which was in Pinstripes (he threw one game with the Senators). In his career he pitched 2500 innings, winning 189 games against only 102 losses with an ERA of 3.34. He struck out nearly 1500 batters in his career, leading the league three times in punchouts. He was buoyed by a strong Yankee defense and offense, but still managed to post an ERA- of 79, accounting for his RA9-WAR of 57.2 in only 368 games.
Gomez, early in his career, had an explosive fastball, and would constantly put up high strikeout totals (at least for his era). When he retired in 1943, he ranked 5th all-time in K/9, 9th in opponent’s batting average (.238!) and 16th in ERA-. He was an incredibly dominant pitcher for most of his career.
Gomez is not without faults, of course. He injured his back while fielding one day and, like Dizzy Dean, ended up altering his motion causing him to hurt his arm and lose the zip on his fastball. That, as well as playing through a torn muscle in his stomach, is why his career is so short and why there is a noticeable dip in his results in the 1940’s. Age quickly caught up with him, and once he lost the velocity on his fastball his control (which wasn’t great to begin with) went along with it. Without those injuries, his last 4 years would look similar to the previous 10 and he would rank much higher.
Gomez was a fantastic character as well. He was quick with a quip and very witty. His SABR bio page has a lot of his best work, but one that has always stood the test of time was when he faced Bob Feller. In an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, the shadows made it difficult for players to see, especially when batting. Early in Feller’s career, he was prone to fits of wildness and threw one of the fastest pitches in the game. Gomez came up using a cigarette lighter, and when questioned by the ump said “I can see him just fine, but I want to make sure that he can see me, too!”
Gomez is a great addition by the Hall of Fame, easily one of the best decisions by the Veterans Committee in the 1970’s.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/12/16: This left fielder was one of several players to move from Louisville to Pittsburgh, where he would eventually become Player-Manager of the Pirates.