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The Phillies Nation Top 100: #91 – Lefty O’Doul

The Phillies Nation Top 100 continues today with #95 through #92. Our mission is to assess the Top 100 Phillies players of all time using impact to the Phillies, individual achievement, team achievement, traditional stats, and analytics as our criteria. The list was compiled by Ian Riccaboni and Pat Gallen with input from the rest of the Phillies Nation staff. 

Each weekday, we will reveal five Phillies from the PN Top 100, with longer or more expansive posts dedicated to individuals that are of particular note to Phillies fans or are closer to the top of the list. To view the 2008 iteration of the list of Greatest Phillies of All Time as compiled by Tim Malcolm, please click here.

Please check back tomorrow for #90-86.

#91 – Lefty O’Doul

Years: 1929-1930

.391/.460/.614, 54 HR in 1338 PA

Previous Rank: 49 (-42)

fWAR Phillies Rank: 56th among position players, 91st overall

Signature Stat: In his first year as a regular, at age 32, O’Doul hit .398/.465/.622 with an OPS of 1.087 (fifth best in team history)

Imagine the story of Josh Hamilton‘s breakout 2008 season with the Rangers. Now make Hamilton 32 instead of 27 and instead of being someone who had battled addiction to get to the Majors, make him a former pitcher who had last seen the Majors six years earlier but stopped throwing because he had a sore arm. And make the season twice as good, one where the player breaks the National League single-season hit record, wins the batting title with a .398 average and posts an incredible 1.087 OPS. Ok, so comparing Lefty O’Doul’s meteoric rise to Hamilton is almost a disservice to O’Doul but O’Doul lacks a better “out of nowhere to MVP candidate” comparable.

To put things in further context, in 1923, O’Doul broke the record for most runs given up in a relief appearance (16) although only three runs were earned. Because of soreness in his arm, he went back to the minors to become an outfielder. And what an outfielder he became. In 1928, at age 31, he reached the Majors with the Giants as part of a platoon, hitting .319/.372/.463 with eight homers and nine steals in 390 PA. He was traded to the Phillies, with cash (!), for Freddy Leach, was pretty solid in his own right (.312/.342/.462 with 41 homers from 1925 through 1928 with the Phillies for 4.5 WAR).

While Leach would continue to have a solid career (.302/.341/.429 from 1929 through 1932 as a regular), O’Doul would become one of the most feared hitters in baseball. In his first of two seasons with the Phillies, O’Doul would team up with Chuck Klein, Pinky Whitney, and Bernie Friberg to produce the National League’s most dangerous offense, as the Phillies led the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, doubles, and homers. Despite having one of the most potent offenses in MLB history, the 1929 Phillies would finish 71-82 and fifth in the NL due to disastrous pitching.

O’Doul would hit .383/.453/.604 with 22 homers in 606 PA for the Phils in 1930 as a 33-year old third-year player, just his second year as a regular. Despite once again having one of the best offenses in baseball, the Phillies would finish 52-112 in 1930 and O’Doul would be traded for Clise Dudley (an average starting pitcher), Jumbo Elliot (a pitcher that would lead the NL in wins in 1931 with the Phillies with 19), and Hal Lee (a left fielder that would hit .303/.343/.497  with 18 homers in his first and only full season, 1932, with the Phillies).

Due to his already advanced age, O’Doul would play only five more seasons, hitting .333/.396/.502 with 51 homers in 1852 post-Phillies plate appearances. O’Doul possesses the distinction of  having the highest career batting average of any player not enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. O’Doul was, however, inducted to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for his efforts as a baseball ambassador in Japan before and after World War II and remains an incredibly popular figure in his his hometown, San Francisco, CA.

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