Lefty: An American Odyssey

Lefty: An American Odyssey

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345526496
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/26/2013
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 1,222,790
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Vernona Gomez is the daughter of June O’Dea and Vernon “Lefty” Gomez. As a child, she bounced on Babe Ruth’s knee, made sand castles on the beach with Joe DiMaggio, and won at cards with the legendary Cy Young. Growing up in a baseball family, Vernona brings an eyewitness account to the adventures chronicled in this book. She is a concert pianist, owner of the Creative Coaching Music Studio in Southport, Connecticut, and has two sons, John and Andrew.
 
Lawrence Goldstone is the author or co-author of thirteen previous books of fiction and nonfiction. One of his novels won a New American Writing Award, another was a New York Times notable mystery. His work has been profiled in The New York Times, The Toronto Star, Salon, and Slate, among others. He lives in Fairfield, Connecticut, with his wife and daughter.




From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Cowboy’s Son

Vernon Gomez was born on November 26, 1908, at his family’s homestead in Rodeo, California, on the south coast of San Pablo Bay, northeast of San Francisco. “Five hundred people if you counted the cows,” he would say. “Rodeo was a town with two local trains, one comin’ and one goin’. Down by the depot, there was a haystack close to the train tracks. If we rode the express, we jumped into it as the train passed through.”
Although he was later referred to in the New York press as “the lanky Castilian” or “the singular senõr,” Lefty’s heritage was in many ways more quintessentially American than that of any newspaperman who wrote about him. Lefty’s paternal grandfather had sunk roots in California pastureland courtesy of that most American of events, the Civil War. While California might not have been the scene of epic battles between blue and gray, throughout the war the navies of both sides did engage in an ongoing series of skirmishes just off the Pacific coast. Confederate raiders prowled the San Francisco coastline trying to disrupt the flow of commerce, while Union warships tried to head them off and keep the sea-lanes -open.
The stakes for a port far removed from Antietam and Gettysburg were surprisingly high. By the early 1860s, San Francisco had been transformed from the sleepy mission settlement of the 1830s into America’s most prominent boomtown, swelled to bursting by the throngs who had come west either to search for gold or to reap the immense profits engendered by those who did. Shipments of wheat, constantly in demand in Europe, or kerosene, a new fuel for illumination derived from petroleum, left by the hour in the holds of clipper ships to begin the torturous journey around the Horn, their crews often supplemented by sailors who had chosen the wrong drinking companions along the Barbary Coast. A steady stream of whaling vessels sailed for the Bering -Sea.
With the explosion of enterprise, trading vessels from the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific flocked to San Francisco. The captain of one of those vessels, a Spaniard named Juan Gomez, arrived in 1862, his ship laden with fine leather goods to satisfy the appetites of the West’s nouveau riche. After selling his cargo, he loaded his ship with wheat for the return trip. Just after he embarked, Juan Gomez’s ship was shot out from under him, torched to the waterline by a Confederate privateer. Juan was rescued but his cargo was -lost.
Juan did not sail again. Instead, he sent for his Portuguese wife, Rita, to join him in California with their -seven--year--old son, Juan Enrique. Rita arrived to find that her husband had turned in his compass and sextant to try his hand at growing wheat and raising horses on a 150--acre ranch in El Sobrante in the Pinole Valley. Rita and Juan enrolled their son in a local school, then set to pioneering. In late 1863, the couple had a second son, Francisco, who was christened in the San Bautista mission, a -native--born American. Francisco would not be sent to school but would remain home to help on the ranch. An illiterate son, it was then believed, would be less likely to up and leave for another profession, and so only the eldest received a formal education. Francisco grew up with a keen intelligence and prodigious memory, but completely unlettered. By early adulthood, he was fluent in three languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and -En-glish, though he was unable to sign his name in any of them. But he had learned roping from the Mexican vaqueros who worked the ranches and earned the moniker “Coyote” as a slick predator with a lasso in his -hand.
Coyote had not been made to toil his life away in a wheat field. He dreamed, as did many boys in the 1870s, of -driv-ing longhorns up the Great Western Trail from Bandera, Texas, to the railhead at Dodge City, Kansas. In 1879, only fifteen years old, Coyote did just that. He drifted east to Nevada, then Texas, ranch to ranch, breaking horses. Then for ten years he rode with the cowboys from Oklahoma to Montana, enduring dust, stampedes, broiling days and frigid nights, long hours in the saddle, and the constant threat of attack from hostile tribes. By his -mid--twenties, Coyote had grown into a hardened trail hand, expert at reading tracks and understanding the instincts of the cattle and horses, a master at throwing loops, branding calves, breaking horses, running the fall roundup, and moving cattle to -market.
But the open range was disappearing. Cowboys were sometimes forced to avoid -shotgun--wielding homesteaders none too keen to watch thousands of cattle tromp across their fields. -Barbed--wire fences increasingly blocked the path of the herds. In 1890, Coyote learned that his father had died of a heart attack. He returned home to help his two younger brothers, Carlos and Manuel, run the El Sobrante ranch. He would never ride the trail -again.
But the homecoming did have its -advantages.
One of Coyote’s responsibilities was to bring the cash crops to the grain warehouses on the Pinole waterfront. Wheat, barley, and oats from the Pinole Valley were then shipped to Port Costa, where the European ships were -docked.
The Gomez farm sold to the area’s most prominent broker, Bernardo Fernandez. In 1892, Fernandez hired a new bookkeeper. Her name was Lizzie Herring, a recent arrival from San Francisco. There, Lizzie had performed similar duties for the postmaster general, B. F. McKinley, whose brother William would that year be elected governor of Ohio and, four years afterward, president of the United -States.
Lizzie was a -sixth--generation American of -Welsh--Irish descent; her grandparents had struck out decades earlier in search of winter sun, free land, and an escape from Bleeding Kansas, where Lizzie’s -great--uncle Franklin had been murdered with a Bowie knife for opposing slavery. In Independence, Missouri, her grandfather John B. P. Williams had purchased a Conestoga wagon and then set out in 1857 on the Oregon Trail with his wife, Lucinda, a son, and three daughters. The family crossed the Rockies at Fort Hall in Idaho, took a cutoff to the Humboldt River in northern Nevada, and finally made their way through a pass in the Sierra Nevada range to Old Shasta in -California.
Each of John B. P.’s daughters married a pioneer; one of them, Mary Jane, wed a logger named Elias Herring. Lizzie was born in 1870 in Bodega Township, near the Russian River, in redwood country. Five years later, her parents were dead. Lizzie was raised by an aunt and sent to school; as an adult, she journeyed south to San Francisco. Another aunt moved north, settling in Oregon, then journeyed farther still, not stopping until her family reached the salmon fisheries in Homer, Alaska, where they started a -cannery.
Lizzie described what happened one fall afternoon at the Fernandez warehouse. “I was sitting behind the counter on a stool, my head bent over a bookkeeping ledger as I tallied up the bales of hay and sacks of wheat that the ranchers had brought in from the valley. I heard the staccato of -high--heeled boots on the wooden floor. I looked up at the cowboy and met a pair of pale blue eyes under a battered broad-brimmed hat. He pulled off the hat and held it in his -hand.
“ ‘Coyote’s the name. Four hundred bushels of wheat, two hundred hay.’ Having said that, he stood waiting for his cash. I handed him the money, then asked him to sign his name to the -receipt.
“He gave me a slow grin. ‘I spell it with an X.’ He made his mark on the paper, laid the receipt on the counter, said, ‘Thank you, ma’am,’ then turned on his heel and walked out the door. Within minutes, he was back inside. ‘Miss Lizzie, ain’t it?’ When I said yes, he smiled -again.
“ ‘Seein’ as how I’m goin’ to the square, would you want to be goin’ with me to the Saturday dance?’
“ ‘I’d like that fine, Coyote.’ ”
Coyote Gomez, the -hard--bitten, taciturn cowboy, married Lizzie Herring, the shy young bookkeeper, in August 1893. For Coyote, Lizzie, who read -En-glish novels purely for enjoyment, represented a sophistication he had never before encountered. After their marriage, the couple moved to the El Sobrante ranch that Coyote was now running for his mother. But Rita had a tyrannical streak and thought Lizzie “soft,” not the pioneer woman her son should have married. When Lizzie became pregnant, Rita refused to even discuss hiring a midwife to help with the delivery. Childbirth was “women’s work,” Rita insisted; a midwife was an affectation. Lizzie would give birth alone, as Rita had seven times before -her.
In rural California in 1894 a -mother--in--law could make such a demand stick, especially a -mother--in--law in whose home you were living. So in solitude Lizzie delivered her child, a son, whom she and Coyote named Earl. Lizzie cut and knotted the umbilical cord herself, then tended to the newborn without help, as Rita had done. The next year another son was born, Milfred, named, as had been Earl, for a character in one of Lizzie’s favorite -En-glish novels. Lizzie birthed Milfred alone as -well.
A third child, Albert, was born on Christmas Eve, 1896, while Coyote was in Nevada selling horses at a saddle stock auction. Albert was a month premature and there were immediate problems. The baby had entered the birth canal feetfirst, and midway through the delivery his arms and head became trapped. After the baby was out, Lizzie began to bleed profusely. She feared she might faint from loss of blood. She yelled for help, but Rita either -couldn’t hear or -wouldn’t respond. Lizzie flailed about for something she could use to tie off the umbilical cord. All that was available was a white bib lying on the table, which Milfred had worn when Lizzie fed him breakfast that morning. She ripped off the strings, used them to tie off the cord, then stanched her own -bleeding.
Days later, Albert grew ill. On New Year’s Eve, 1896, he went into convulsions and died. Rita had refused to call a doctor. Albert, it was later determined, had contracted an infection from the contaminated bib strings. Lizzie had carried her child for nine months, and now he was dead by her own hand. She never ceased blaming herself for Albert’s death, but she also knew full well that if a doctor or midwife had been present, the boy would have -lived.
Coyote returned home from Nevada shortly after New Year’s, in time, he thought, for his baby’s arrival. Lizzie met him at the door. She told him his son had already been born and was already buried. Then she issued an ultimatum. “Never again. It’s your mother or me. I’m leaving.” Coyote walked to the barn, hitched the horses to the spring wagon, then left with his wife, two boys, and meager savings. They stopped at Rodeo, a dusty backwater about three miles up the coast where land was cheap. Coyote and Lizzie placed a small down payment on a $450 plot of land and set to building a house. Rita remained in Pinole on her 150 acres of ranchland, stubborn and uncompromising. In 1906, the state of California appropriated all but fifteen acres of her land under eminent domain to make way for the San Pablo Dam Reservoir. Rita fought the order in court, but the state prevailed. Once the “American bandits” had taken her land, Rita vowed never again to speak another word of -En-glish, nor allow it to be spoken in her home. She kept that vow until the day she -died.
Coyote and Lizzie had four more children in the next six years: Lloyd, Irene, Cecil, and Gladys. A doctor helped with each delivery. Then, on November 26, 1908, the last of their children was born. They named him Vernon -Louis.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Prologue xv

Part I "American's pastime for barefoot Boys"

1 The Cowboy's Son 3

2 "An Aberrant Deviation in the Evolutionary process" 9

3 "Pick a spot, make a diamond" 21

4 "I'd go Anywhere to pitch" 27

5 "About as skinny as you can get and still be living" 35

6 "His Name's Gomez Go warm him up" 43

7 "I had to stop gomez" 50

8 Ping, babe, duster, sloppy and lefty 59

9 Class d baseball seven days a week 65

10 Birdlegs and walter the great 72

11 A Death in new york 81

12 Hollywood, Goat's milk, and spinach 89

Part 2 "What do you think of my boy vernon now?"

13 "I Don't talk to bushers" 95

14 The Doctor and the dictator 109

15 June in June 120

16 A Pitcher's pitch 135

17 "The Greatest thrill of my career" 143

18 "No Lipstick lefty" 153

19 Pitzy and fung 156

20 Game of the century 166

21 For want of an inning 170

22 Let loose to run around the world 180

23 "The yankees pay you eve when you lose?" 193

24 "He Can't hit it, if i don't tgriw it" 204

25 Farewell to rodeo 215

26 June in january... And february 226

27 The not-so-perfect crime 232

28 Immortality, achieved and denied 246

29 "You don't tell june she can't do something" 257

30 "They'll have to cut the uniform off me" 265

31 Eighty innings 277

Part 3 "When i married lefty, I married Baseball"

32 "You could see it was gone" 285

33 Field general 296

34 "Never Measure a Player when he's gone 0 For 4" 310

35 "I only do what i like to do" 320

36 "The Best Possible sports experience for every child who has desire to play" 327

37 "My own damn fault" 331

38 Winning friends and influencing people for the united states on ten dollars a day 335

39 "You don't have to shovel rain" 339

40 Something you can only hope for 345

41 Duane 351

42 "We're going to miss lefty" 357

Epilogue 372

Acknowledgements 377

Index 383

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“An intimate portrait of a man whose life off the field was equally as captivating as his unparalleled baseball career.”—Yankees Magazine  
 
“His story transcends sports and gives us a much-needed lesson in grit and grace.”—Jon Meacham
 
“A loving and beautifully written tribute . . . Be prepared to be transformed, and to discover stars who were stars in an age when that word really meant something.”—Mike Greenberg, co-host of ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning
 
“An amiable portrait of a baseball great—like Yogi Berra, Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige—whose outsized personality looms even larger than his considerable athletic achievements.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“Endearing for its vivid snapshots of long-lost diamonds and the colorful players who inhabited them.”—Austin American-Statesman
 
“Filled with stories that will bring joy to baseball fans.”—The Roanoke Times
 
“A charming story.”—Bookreporter

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Lefty: An American Odyssey 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
A-10 More than 1 year ago
This is a great story about the rewards of perserverence and talent. This guy had a huge heart and loved his fans just as much as they loved him. He was gifted with a blazing fastball. It's a shame there were no radar guns in those days to measure the speed. Tocay's ball players would do well to follow Lefty's lead when it comes to dedication to the game and the people who love baseball.
lily8912 More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic story about Lefty Gomez, written by his daughter and L.Goldstone (who is not a ghost writer - his name appears on the book!). The pages are filled with humor and honesty as they describe Lefty's life from his humble beginnings in Rodeo, CA to his fame as a Hall of Fame pitcher for the NY Yankees. It tells the story also of how baseball progressed from its time during the depression. Life was not easy for minor leaguers. Stories, one-liners, and anecdotes are plentiful. There are insights into the personalities of names we all recognize as synonymous with baseball and Yankees - e.g. DiMaggio, Rizzuto. It is written from first-hand knowledge, and with great feeling. Anyone who loves baseball will love this book...and anyone who doesn't love baseball will surely become a fan! Read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I'd heard tales of this team of baseball legends, but when I read this book, they seemed to come alive. Lefty was sometimes the glue that brought the team together. Often his quips were the tension relievers for a team of similarly driven players, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and the Babe. That he could hold off the opposing teams with his stinging fastball made his contribution to Yankee wins crucial as well. It's easy to see why James Michener thought Lefty's story would have universal appeal. (I''m a Red Sox fan, after all.) There's plenty of drama in this book, including his marriage to a Broadway star June O'Day, and celebrity friends. A must read!!!
moibibliomaniac on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Vernona Gomez and Lawrence Goldstone hit a home run when they wrote this book. It could be one of the best sports biographies ever written, and a sure bet for the bestseller list.I knew I would enjoy reading this book because Lawrence Goldstone was one of the authors. I'm familiar with his writing, having read several of the books about book collecting he coauthored with his wife. But in this case, I think Goldstone only played a minor part, fine tuning Vernona Gomez's manuscript. This book is written from the heart ¿¿ the heart of Lefty Gomez's daughter, Vernona Gomez's heart. Bleeding through the words is a father's personality as witnessed by his daughter and viewed by the rest of the world.I have the advance uncorrected proof of this book, but I will order a hardcover copy as well because the Index is lacking in the uncorrected proof. I want to to readily find the many anecdotes regarding Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and all the other Yankees that fill the pages of this book. A most enjoyable read! Moi recommends!
KatKealy on LibraryThing 25 days ago
I tried to love this book.... I really did. I'll probably even try to re-read it later, but I just could NOT enjoy this book.A bit of background on me and the Yankees... I LOVE the Yankees. I've loved them as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a Yankees fan, I lived in NYC, my friend's father WAS on the Yankees... I LOVE them. I've read a lot about the history of them and baseball as a whole and enjoyed it.But, I could NOT get into this book. It was just too dry. The writing style is just not for me. The others who read it so far loved it, so if you love the Yankees, give it a shot. I just wasn't impressed. I felt like I wasted my time. Thankfully, I read quickly, but I felt that time could have been spent enjoying the next book I read instead.
BellaFoxx on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Vernon Gomez, nicknames 'Lefty' (for obvious reasons) pitched for the NY Yankees from 1930-1942. This is rather amazing as this was the time when pitchers were in the game till their arms fell off. They virtually pitched themselves out of their careers. Vernon was the type of pitcher that would pitch everyday if asked, he had a fierce drive to compete and to win. This is the account of his life from the beginning to the end. We follow along through the early years of baseball, the good and the bad, we are introduced to other greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey and Phil Rizzuto. Other players who were well known and stars at the time but whose names are not familiar to me. Even after his baseball career was over he stayed connected to the game. He had a reputation as a man you could trust and his work ethic on the baseball diamond carried on, it was a legacy left to him by his parents. Much of the account is related in stories from people that were there or heard of it, where there is a conflict that is brought out too, in one event of his life, where not much is known the author simply states, "He never said why he did what he did."This was an easy to read book, the narrative was flowing and while not compelling, was not boring or tedious. It had the background information of Lefty and June's life that you expect from a biography making it a well rounded account.
AnnieLeo on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Lefty Gomez was a very interesting person, and I really enjoyed learning about him. That said, I would have to say that this book was very dense and took a long time to get through. It was jam-packed with detail about his pitching career, friends and family. And at times, it was confusing as to whom was speaking.Lefty Gomez was a small-town California boy who made it big in the big leagues as one of the great Yankee pitchers. He got there with hard work, determination and an irreverent sense of humor. The book details his journey through stories and quotes from friends, family, teammates, and Lefty himself. His antics with the Yankee players and management are well-documented. As are all his pitching stats. Lefty's wife, June O'Dea, was famous in her own right. She was a singer and dancer on Broadway. These two ran with quite an elite New York crowd, though Lefty never lost his small-town charm. He was extremely generous with his time and touched many lives. He was a true free spirit. Any person with an interest in baseball will find lots to enjoy in this book. There are hundreds of anecdotes, many hilarious, all giving us insight into the man known as El Goofo.
mysterymax on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Vernon "Lefty" Gomez was born in Rodeo, California in 1908. By 1942 he had a lifetime pitching record of 189 - 102. He had won 20 games in a season four times, led the American League in strikeouts three times, led the league in shutouts three times, started seven World Series games for a 6 - 0 record and he was the starting, and winning, pitcher of the first All-Star game as well as hitting in the first run of that game. Beyond these accomplishments, he was also the glue of the Yankee clubhouse during the 1930's; a friend and confidant to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.What emerges in the book is the man, himself. He learned as a child that if you wanted something you had to work for it. He had been working on his parent's farm since he was a child. At age eight he was milking the cows at 4:00 am. Even at five and six years old, if he wanted money for a candy or ice cream he had to earn it. He entered into everything he wanted to do whole-heartedly with no half-way measures. Being fascinated, as a child, with the sax he earned the money to pay for lessons by lighting streetlights and plucking chickens. He carried the same attitude into becoming a pilot and a baseball player. There was one game the kids played - sandlot baseball - and Lefty became determined to be a big-league pitcher. The book was a joy to read. Here was a player that didn't get big-headed with success. He didn't make excuses for the times he lost, he didn't whine, he didn't put on airs, he didn't drink, he didn't fight. And while he was great with the one-line quips (which became known as Lefty-isms) and jokes on team mates in the locker room, he was also a serious person who listened to others, didn't gossip and didn't lie.Here, too, are images of great ball players, free of the publicity, rumor and hype. Babe Ruth, for one, became an entirely different person than the one I had grown up believing him to be. There are stories of Dizzy Dean, Jack Dempsey, and scores of others.While the book follows the games, the seasons and the big comings and goings of the players and teams, it focuses on the people. It is immensely readable and makes you feel like you've been at the ballpark on a really sunny day, watching the best of the best play ball.
chuck_ralston on LibraryThing 25 days ago
I first heard the name Lefty Gomez, while listening with my Dad to a 1956 Yankee-Dodgers World Series game: ¿Whitey Ford is my favorite Yankee, after Mickey Mantle.¿ Dad replied, ¿When I was your age my favorite Yankee was Lefty Gomez, after Lou Gehrig.¿ I would guess all kids learn about baseball players this way: fathers and sons playing catch and (today) watching games.Lefty: An American Odyssey (New York : Ballantine Books ; imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, 2012) is a book about one of the great New York Yankees pitchers in the 1930s and early 1940s who appeared in seven All-Star games (1933 through 1939) and a member of five New York Yankees World Series championships (1932, 1936 through 1939). Vernon `Lefty¿ Gomez was a 20-game winner four times. Unlike teammates Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth who were inducted into baseball¿s Hall of Fame almost immediately after retirement, Lefty was not inducted until 1972, nearly thirty years following his in 1943. Verona Gomez, Lefty¿s daughter, and co-author Lawrence Goldstone, have written an informative and hilarious biography of Vernon `Lefty¿ Gomez and at the same time a nostalgic review of the America¿s national past time for most of the last century. The book¿s Prologue gives the reader a nostalgic look at the August 4th, 1962 Old Timers Game at San Francisco¿s Candlestick Park where veterans of the Giants (who had recently in 1958 been in New York) played veterans of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, which Triple-A franchise closed in 1957 to make way for the Giants. The Seals veteran ball players included outfielders Dom, Vince, and `Yankee Clipper¿ Joe DiMaggio, and pitcher Vernon `Lefty¿ Gomez. We learn that the taciturn Yankee Clipper roomed with the gregarious Lefty his first six years with the Yankees. Also, that Lefty and his wife June O¿Dea, a Broadway actress, a few days after the game were to attend the `re-marriage¿ of Joe DiMaggio and his wife Marilyn Monroe in Los Angeles. Tragically, Monroe died the next day at home from a drug overdose. During DiMaggio¿s grief Lefty would call him twice a week just to talk. ¿That¿s what roomies are for.¿ This bitter-sweet narrative tone gives Lefty a truth-stranger-than-fiction appeal and moves autobiography firmly into the realm of social history. This is a book not only about a great player until recently forgotten by most fans, but a book that remembers the greatness of the game itself. I highly recommend it to all who love the game. My Dad would have loved Lefty.
Tanstaafl More than 1 year ago
Baseball has had a lot of "strikeouts" with the public over the last 20 years...from player strikes to player drug use.  The latest being the arrogance of A-Rod (although I would use a different "A" word for him).  But this story of baseball and one of baseball's best pitchers is fascinating, informative, heart warming and (seeing as it is written by Lefty's daughter) truthful story.  She tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth about all the people in her father's life.  What 's just as important is her reporting about the techniques, history and details of playing the game itself.  A truly excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
barnsmell More than 1 year ago
This is a book about Lefty Gomez's life, family,marriage, and baseball career in that order. It is short on anecdotes and baseball memories or tales. It's a light speedread written by his daughter and a ghostwritter.