A Father's Journal / The strange rites of lefthanders
Published 5:35 am, Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Almost 16 years ago, when my oldest daughter was born, our neighbors wanted their son to play piano, so they hired a piano teacher. But they didn't have a piano, so the lessons were at our house.
The teacher was a tall graceful woman, with large earrings. The earrings said something about the Baseball Hall of Fame. My wife asked why she had Baseball Hall of Fame earrings. She replied my dad's in the Hall of Fame.
My wife, who knows almost nothing about baseball, asked, "Who's your dad?"
The piano teacher replied "Lefty Gomez." "Wow" my wife said. "He was a left-handed Yankee pitcher in the `30s."
Yes he was, said his daughter, the piano teacher.
My wife's father was not a Yankee fan. He was a Red Sox fan. But when he had four daughters, (the oldest, my wife, is left handed), he tried to find ways to relate. A former military officer, he related to his daughter by ordering her to memorize famous left-handed pitchers. He thought this would help her self esteem and provide a common ground they could bond over.
The highest on the list in my wife's family was Sandy Koufax. Not only was he left handed, but he was Jewish. He wouldn't pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. It soon became apparent to my father-in-law that my wife, Laura, was never going to pitch a perfect game.
My wife quickly developed an interest in tennis.
Famous female left-handed players like Hilde Krahwinkel Sperling, who won three French Championships (1935, 1936, 1937), and Katharine Esther Stammers, who won the French doubles title (1935; and Wimbledon doubles title (1935 and 1936), became part of her vocabulary.
This was just as lefties Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova were becoming well known. Laura's father had her study Rod Laver, who had won 11 Grand Slam titles and was the greatest left-handed tennis player by that time.
Laura's father played tennis with her, and they went to tennis camps where they met many famous tennis players. Her father would really fawn (sometimes awkwardly) over left-handed players even though he was right-handed. He wanted something that he and his daughter could bond over. Laura's serve was the worst part of her game, so her father thought it would boost her confidence if he continually screamed the speed of Rod Laver's serve through the chain link fence during her matches. My wife does not remember it helping.
By contrast, when I was growing up, I was only introduced to one famous athlete by my dad -- it was the football player Hugh McElhenny. I had never even heard of him. Recently I asked my brothers if they even remembered him.
McElhenny was speaking at our football banquet, and Dad got the task of driving him around our town. Dad brought him out to our farm and showed him around. He wasn't Joe DiMaggio or Rod Laver. But I later found out through Google that he was a Hall of Fame running back with the San Francisco 49ers.
Another Hall of Famer came through our town around that time. My brother John was in the hospital for an extended stay, and my dad convinced the guy who was driving Mets star Tom Seaver to take him out to the hospital. He did, and in the tradition of Gomez, Ruth, DiMaggio and Gehrig, Seaver went to hospital to cheer up a local boy stuck there. He gave John a signed ball and wrote to him during the 1969 season, the year the "Miracle Mets" won the World Series. Unfortunately Tom Seaver, was right handed.
Lefty Gomez's piano-playing daughter taught our neighbor, babysitter's son, and eventually our daughter on our piano. Over the years she became our friend. She finally wrote a book about her father. It just came out and has gotten great reviews. Lefty: An American Odyssey by Vernona Gomez and Lawrence Goldstone is portrait of a father by his daughter.
The book doesn't gloss over her fathers trials and troubles. It looks at the whole picture of the man. Something a daughter should do for her father, no matter which arm he uses to pitch.
Happy Father's Day.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org