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. His 6-0 World Series record gave him the most wins without a loss in World Series history. His three victories in All-Star Game competition (against one loss) also are a record.
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.
Gomez and righthander Red Ruffing formed the lefty-righty pitching core for the great New York teams of the 1930s. In 1934 he led the league in seven major categories, including wins (26), ERA (2.33), and strikeouts (158), the pitching equivalent of the Triple Crown. He led the league again in the top three pitching categories in 1937.
Arm miseries hounded him throughout his career. 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).
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.
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.”