One fateful dayin the mid-1960s Daniel Woodhead III, freshly graduated from Harvard BusinessSchool, wandered into Lefty O'Doul's bar and restaurant in downtown SanFrancisco. Woodhead had moved west from his home in Winnetka, Ill., at theurging of a friend who advised him that the city was abundantly populated withyoung women of transcendent beauty and sophistication. But as he stood in thedoorway of O'Doul's, he saw only elderly men, one of whom was undoubtedlyO'Doul himself, gathered at the bar talking baseball. Woodhead departed,blissfully innocent of a future that would join him to O'Doul in a quest sodogged as to make the Arthurian search for the Holy Grail seem little more thanan Easter egg hunt.
Woodhead knewlittle then of O'Doul's brief stardom in the big leagues, his popularity in hishome town as manager for 17 years of the Pacific Coast League's Seals or hisnotable contributions to Japanese baseball with touring American teams and as akey organizer of that country's professional leagues. But over the years, as helearned more about O'Doul, who remained a beloved figure in the Bay Area, itbegan to dawn on Woodhead that O'Doul had been slighted by the game he loved.Here was a player with a .349 career average who in a five-year stretch from1928 through '32 hit .319, .398, .383, .336 and .368, and won two NationalLeague batting titles. The '29 season alone was a whopper. Besides the .398average, O'Doul, then with the Philadelphia Phillies, banged out what remainsan NL--record 254 hits, among them 32 homers and 35 doubles.
And yet O'Doul,who died in 1969 at age 72, had not been elected to the game's Hall of Fame,and to Woodhead this was a travesty. A self-confessed "loose cannon,"Woodhead vowed to do something about it. Although his education at Wesleyan andHarvard had been in economics and his career in banking, Woodhead had alwaysconsidered himself a writer. So beginning in the late '80s he took up his penand began corresponding with everyone even remotely connected to O'Doul's life,a group that included Joe DiMaggio, who played for O'Doul as a minor leaguerwith the Seals, and Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, who had welcomed O'Doul to Japanwhen Ridgway was Far East commander there in the early '50s.
The responses tohis letters further convinced Woodhead that O'Doul belonged in Cooperstown, andthe crusade widened. Woodhead's final output was enormous: hundreds of letters,documents and statistical compilations, all dispatched to the Hall's VeteransCommittee.
December 11, 2006
Still, O'Doul wasrepeatedly passed over, the prevailing view being that his career--970games--was too short, even though with 11 years of major league service, he metthe Hall's 10-year eligibility requirement. He'd begun as a pitcher whose armhad become so worn and sore that, as one writer commented, it "hung fromhis shoulder like a wet rope." After four miserable seasons in which heappeared in just 34 games with the Yankees and the Red Sox, O'Doul switched tothe outfield in 1924 and slugged his way back to the bigs with the Giants fouryears later, at age 31.
Woodhead was soappalled by a decade of rejections from Veterans Committees that he nearlyabandoned his own personal motto, Vincit qui patitur (He conquers whoperseveres). The bitterest blow came in 2002 when O'Doul was inducted into theJapanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Woodheadgained new inspiration and was once more roused to action when O'Doul washonored at a local banquet last June. The Veterans Committee had beenrestructured and expanded in 2001, so now there was a new group of 84 electorsto deal with. To each member Woodhead quickly mailed an O'Doul informationpacket.
Lo and behold,from a starting list of 200 nominees, O'Doul made the cut to the final 27.Still a long shot, he'll need to be named on 75% of the ballots, which go outearly next month and are tabulated in February.
Woodhead, now 70,is cautiously optimistic. "This is an injustice that must becorrected," he says. Even if it isn't, it's unlikely Woodhead will give upthe ghost. O'Doul's, that is.
In Good Company
Since the Veterans Committee expanded in 2001, there have been two votes taken,with no old-timers gaining induction. These are the top vote-getters from thelast election, in 2005.