Whatever your view on Joe Jackson being in the HOF is, there is no doubt he was one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. His .356 average ranks 3rd all time, trailing only Ty Cobb (.366) and Rogers Hornsby (.358). Babe Ruth himself admits to copying Jackson's hitting style because he was "the greatest hitter" he had ever seen. It is common knowledge that Jackson has the highest career batting average that is not in Baseball's Hall of Fame. What many do not know is that the player with the 4th highest career batting average is also not in the Hall.
Lefty O'Doul hit .349 for his career. The reason he has not yet been enshrined is because the writers and the Veterans Committee feel he did not play long enough. Originally a pitcher for the Yankees and Red Sox in the early 1920s, O'Doul became a full time outfielder after he hurt his arm and could no longer pitch. After pitching through the 1923 season, he spent several years learning how to be a full time position player and hitter. By the time he returned to the big leagues in 1928, he was 31 with just 72 big league at bats under his belt- all as a pitcher.
What the naysayers refuse to acknowledge is the fact that O'Doul came out like an animal when he returned to the big leagues. After setting a ridiculous pace in the minor leagues, Lefty hit .319 in his first season as an OF for the 1928 Giants in 114 games. After that season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies where he hit an incredible .398, winning his first batting title. He followed that up by hitting .383 in 1930. He was then traded to the Brooklyn Robins in what was Wilbert Robinson's last season as a big league manager. He only hit .336 that season, but followed that up by winning his second batting title for the Dodgers in 1932 with a .368 average.
What makes that run so unbelievable is that O'Doul had the highest batting average of any player over that span (1928-1932). Among notables that O'Doul topped were Yankees greats Ruth (.348) and Lou Gehrig (.349), former teammate Chuck Klein (.357) and Pirates legend Paul Waner (.348). O'Doul also managed to outhit Hornsby (.361), though Hornsby was nearing the end of his career.
Unfortunately, O'Doul only played two more seasons in the big leagues. After getting off to a tough start for the Dodgers in 1933, hitting just .252 in 43 games, he was traded once again to the Giants- the team he started his comeback with. He hit .306 the rest of the way for the Giants and hit .316 in his final big league season with the Giants in 1934. He also got a hit in his only World Series at bat in 1933 (a 1.000 career postseason batting average). His parts of 6 other MLB seasons caused his average to drop from .365 to .349. And the fact that his career consisted of just his stretched out 11 seasons works against him.
My case for O'Doul in the Hall is similar to a lot of cases I have made for other players. I like to use a comparison model to another player that is in the Hall. In this case, I am using the example of a player who similar to O'Doul, had a short MLB career. Like O'Doul, his career was made of a five year stretch where he was one of the best in the game. The only difference is this player set a home run record in the NL that lasted until Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single season HR record and a RBI record that remains to this day.
Hack Wilson was O'Doul's teammate on the 1932 Dodgers. He hit .297 and drove in 123 runs and like O'Doul, was done playing in the big leagues after the 1934 season. Wilson's power numbers from 1926-1930 with the Cubs are as good as any who have ever played the game. Nobody has matched Wilson's 708 RBI over the course of 5 consecutive seasons (though Manny Ramirez' 662 from 1998-2002 was quite impressive). Wilson only played parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues but his impact will be remembered forever. The Veterans Committee could not hide the fact that Hack Wilson was a Hall of Famer, even if he did not play an incredibly long time. Hopefully the Veterans Committee can look at what O'Doul did in a similar limited window. Add in the fact that he spent several seasons learning how to be a position player after hurting his arm as a pitcher, and I am finding it more difficult to understand why he is left out.
Batting averages as high as Lefty O'Doul's are hard to come by for a single season, let alone a career. That is what makes Ted Williams the greatest pure hitter the game has ever seen. Nobody else in the top ten career batting averages played a game after 1940. Williams' .344 career average is tied for 7th all time. Tony Gwynn is the most contemporary comparison as nobody since Williams has been as great of a pure hitter than Gwynn was. Gwynn's .338 career average is tied for 18th all time. Lefty O'Doul belongs in the Hall of Fame, as does Shoeless Jackson. The only difference is O'Doul is eligible. It is time to put the National League single season hits leader (250- since tied by Hall of Famer Bill Terry) where he belongs; with a plaque acknowledging him for being among the best in the game- even if it was for just a short time.