Classic Yankees: Lefty Gomez

new york yankees lefty-gomezOne of his nicknames was Goofy, and for good reason.

He once stepped off the mound in the middle of the World Series, just to watch a plane fly by overhead. He once joked that an unidentified object on the moon was a home run ball that Jimmy Foxx once hit off of him. He once stepped off the mound, and when Bill Dickey came out to check on him, stated (regarding Foxx) “I don’t want to throw him anything.  Maybe he’ll get tired of waiting and just leave.”

He was a happy go lucky, outgoing individual who somehow became best friends with a shy, reserved, talented superstar in Joe DiMaggio. He married a Broadway star in June O’Dea.

He may have been “Goofy” but his records were serious.

He was Vernon Louis or Lefty Gomez, who teamed up with Red Ruffing (the previous profile) to give the Yanks a righty-lefty 1-2 punch throughout the 1930s.

The master of quips like “the secret of my success was clean living and a fast outfield” came to the Yanks in 1930 at the age of 21. He went 2-5, 5.55 but quickly became an ace, winning 21 games with a 2.67 ERA the following year. In 1932, he went 24-7, 4.21 as the Yanks won the World Series, one of six World Series winning Yankee teams Gomez would be involved with. Despite the high ERA, Gomez finished 5th in MVP voting.

After winning 16 in 1933 with a 3.18 ERA, Gomez won the AL pitching Triple Crown in 1934, leading the league in wins (26), ERA (2.33) and strikeouts (158; he had a league leading 163 the year before). He led the majors in winning pct. (26-5, .839), CG and ERA+, and the AL in IP and shutouts. He finished 3rd in MVP voting, behind winner Mickey Cochrane and Cochrane’s Tiger teammate, Charlie Gehringer. (Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown and finished 5th!)

Gomez had a good ERA in 1935 at 3.18, but only went 12-15. He then helped the Yanks to four straight WS titles from 1936 to 1939, winning 13, 21, 18 and 12 games.

In 1937, he duplicated his 1934 feat of winning the AL Triple Crown, going 21-11, 2.33 with 194 strikeouts. He finished 9th in MVP voting.

Gomez was 6-0, 2.86 in WS play. All seven appearances were starts.

By the late 1930s, Gomez was starting to have arm problems. Going into 1940, he was just 31. He had led the league in wins in 1934 and 1937 (the aforementioned 26 and 21. He was a 4x 20-game winner). He led the majors in winning pct. in that 1934 season. He had led the league in CG once and shutouts 3x. He led the league in IP once, and had pitched 230 or more innings in seven different seasons. He had led the league in strikeouts 3x. In those great 1934 and 1937 seasons, he led the majors in ERA+ with 176 and 193. He was named on every All-Star team from the first one in 1933 through 1939. Besides the three top-10 MVP finishes, he finished 30th in 1938.

In 1940, Gomez’ arm started to give way. He went 3-3, 6.59 in just nine games. He rebounded in 1941 to go 15-5, 3.74, and his .750 winning percentage led the AL. After the season, he turned 33. 1941 would turn out to be his last hurrah.

In 1942, Goofy Gomez went 6-4, 4.28 in 13 games, as he was part of his seventh pennant-winning team. The Yanks sold Gomez to the Boston Braves in January of 1943, but Gomez never pitched for the Braves. The Braves released him in May, and a few days later Gomez signed on with Washington. He started one game for them, taking a loss, going 4 2/3 and giving up four runs. It was the only major league game he would pitch not wearing a Yankees uniform. Washington released Gomez in July. As Gomez put it in those days, “I’m throwing twice as hard but the ball is getting there half as fast.”

Gomez finished his career at 189-102, ERA 3.34, ERA+ 126. A lousy hitter, he hit .147 in his career with 0 HR and 58 RBI. He hit .150 with 4 RBI in WS play. But of all people, it is Gomez who got the first AL hit in All Star play, and it is he who drove in the first All-Star run with that very same single.

Gomez started every All-Star game for the AL from 1933 to 1938 with the exception of the 1936 game (Ruffing started in 1939 and 1940). He went 3-1 in All-Star play.

Gomez was elected to the HOF in 1972 by the Veterans’ Committee. He was inducted in the same year as Early Wynn, Sandy Koufax and Yogi Berra.  Also going in that year were Will Harridge (former AL President), Ross Youngs, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.

Wikipedia gives more Goofy Gomezisms. It’s like he was Yogi before Yogi:

In one game, he came up to bat when it was slightly foggy. Bob Feller was on the mound and Gomez struck a match before stepping into the batter’s box. “What’s the big idea?” growled the umpire. “Do you think that match will help you see Feller’s fast one?” “No, I’m not concerned about that,” Lefty said. “I just want to make sure he can see me!”

Another example of Gomez’ quick wit came with a group of reporters. Noted for his accurate and frequent brushback pitches (also known as “throwing” at the hitter), one of the reporters asked Gomez- “Is it true that you’d throw at your own mother.” Gomez replied- “you’re damn right I would, she’s a good hitter.” (This has also been said of Early Wynn.)

Gomez, like Ruffing, has a plaque in Monument Park. Gomez’ number isn’t retired. He wore #11.

Gomez was 80 when he died in 1989.

Gomez ranks 4th all-time in Yankees victories, behind Ford, Ruffing and Pettitte. No Yankee pitcher has won 26 games in a regular season since Gomez did it in 1934.

A postscript:

It’s interesting to compare Gomez to Guidry. This isn’t to debate who should be in/out of the HOF, but … It does show how close the two are in career stats. Guidry, of course, has a plaque in Monument Park, as well as his number 49 retired.

Guidry’s WAR is 44.4, Gomez’ 43.2. There is only a 106 2/3 innings pitched difference between the two. Gomez is 4th for all-time Yankee wins with 189. Guidry is next with 170.

Gomez had his 26-5, 2.33 1934 season. Guidry his 25-3, 1.74 1978 season.

Gomez was a 4x 20-game winner. Guidry did it 3x.

Gomez career ERA was 3.34. Guidry’s 3.29. Gomez had 28 shutouts, Guidry 26. Gomez’s ERA+ 126; Guidry’s 119.

Guidry started 323 games, Gomez 319 as a Yankee (plus one with Washington).

Gomez was 6-0, 2.86 in WS play. Guidry was 5-2, 3.02 in his postseasons.

Gomez winning pct. was .649. Guidry’s was .651.

In fact, in similarity scores on baseballreference.com, if you look up Gomez, #3 is Guidry. #1? Another Yankee great, Allie Reynolds.

It’s a bit eerie how close the two were from their names in the encyclopedia, right down to their pitching stats.

Some quotes for this profile were taken from A Yankee Century, by Harvey Frommer. Wikipedia and BaseballReference.com also were used.

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