Tall and lanky, Vernon "Lefty" Gómez baffled the opposition with a blazing fastball and sweeping curve, while entertaining teammates with his wit and good humor. Remembered mainly for his colorful personality, Lefty Gomez was also one of baseball's greatest winners, ranking third in Yankee history in regular-season wins with 189. (He trails only Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing.)
Gómez was a 20-game winner four times during the 1930s, won ERA titles in 1934 and 1937, and comprised one half of the Yankees' devastating 1-2 punch along with right-hander Ruffing (as a lefty-righty duo, the Dodger duo of Koufax-Drysdale and the Atlanta Braves Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine rival them, and maybe Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain in the late 1940s were close).
Gomez's zaniness set him apart from the decorous Yankees of the 1930s. He once held up a World Series game, exasperating manager Joe McCarthy (as he did with some frequency), to watch an airplane pass by. Gomez got away with needling his buddy, Joe DiMaggio, because DiMaggio, like everyone else, enjoyed the Gomez wit, which produced such statements as: "I've got a new invention. It's a revolving bowl for tired goldfish."
The Yankees purchased Gomez from his hometown San Francisco Seals in 1929 for $35,000. Two years later he won 21 games for them. His smoking fastball belied his slender frame. He was a nail, with a whiplash arm and a high leg kick.
Gómez twice led the league in winning percentage and ERA, and three times in strikeouts. He set a World Series record by winning 6 games without a loss - the most ever WS wins without a loss - while Ruffing was 7-2 in World Series play. He played on 7 pennant winners (1932, 1936-1939, 1941-1942). Gomez threw a shutout in 1941 while issuing 11 walks, the most walks ever allowed in a shutout. And though a notoriously poor hitter, he produced the first RBI in All-Star history and singled home the winning run in the 1937 World Series clincher.
He arrived young and started winning immediately - at the age of 22, he went 24-7 with the 1931 Yankees and his 2.67 ERA was second to the Athletics Lefty Grove. He became the ace of the1932 World Series champion Yankees, with a 24-7 record - his ERA was mediocre, but the Yankees (powered by Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Sewell and Bill Dickey, all in their prime) scored 1,002 runs, one of history's great offenses.
In 1934, he won the pitching equivalent of the Triple Crown with a 26-5 record, 158 strikeouts and a 2.33 ERA. He repeated the feat in 1937, with a 21-11 record, 194 strikeouts and a 2.33 ERA again; only Walter Johnson (1913, 1918, 1924), Lefty Grove (1930, 1931) and Roger Clemens (1997, 1998) have been able to repeat as Triple Crown winners.
In 1938, he had one more great year, at the age of 29; he went 18-12, and his 3.35 ERA was third in the AL. In 1939, his ERA of 3.41 was 6th in the AL, but he went just 12-8 and logged just 198 innings. Arm miseries hounded him throughout his career, and as his fastball lost its effectiveness, Gomez moved from power pitcher to finesse pitcher. "I'm throwing as hard as I ever did," he quipped, "the ball's just not getting there as fast."
Gomez fooled hitters and made a beautiful, slow curve work for him. He had a great comeback in 1941 (15-5) after a 3-3 mark in 1940, leading the league in winning percentage (.750). After pitching one game for Washington (he lost) in 1943, Gomez retired, later to hook up with the Wilson sporting goods company as a goodwill ambassador. He was asked on joining Wilson why he had left his last position. Gomez, who never took himself seriously, responded that he left because he couldn't "get the side out."
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