Lefty Gomez is the founding father of a pretty exclusive baseball club.
I mean …
Have you ever noticed that the New York Yankees tend to have a knack for finding aces who put up gaudy win-loss records year to year but fall short when it comes to longevity or overall counting stats.
Take Whitey Ford, who posted an amazing .690 wining percentage over 16 seasons but wound up with “just” 236 victories.
Or Ron Guidry, who lit up the American League in 1978 with a 25-3 record and was usually in the Cy Young discussion over his 14-year career, but who managed just a 170-91 lifetime record.
Or Catfish Hunter, who went 63-53 in five years for the Yanks en route to a 224-166 record over 15 big league seasons.
Or, how about Allie Reynolds, 131-60 for the Yankees, 182-107 overall in a relatively brief 13-year career in the majors.
Wind back the clock a full century, and Herb Pennock might have been the founding member of this “club” had he not toiled eleven years for Boston and Philadelphia before finding the limelight of the 1920s Yankees.
Lucky for New York, they had a youngster already warming up in their metaphorical bullpen by the time Pennock began to fade in 1929, when he dropped to 9-11 with a 4.92 ERA.
That same summer, the Yankees purchased Gomez’s rights from the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, and the young lefty was in the Bronx by the next spring.
He won 20 games for the first time in 1931 and then did it three more times through 1937.
Alas, Gomez injured his pitching arm early in 1940 and, though he came back with a strong 15-5 showing in 1941, his staying power was shot — he managed just 23 starts and 156 and a third innings.
Gomez was just 34 when he hung up his spikes.
Overall, the Hall of Fame lefthander fashioned a 189-102 record, supported by a solid 3.34 ERA.
That’s right in line with some of those other guys we talked about up above, right?
So … why is it that the Yankees have consistently featured hurlers with that win-big-but-bow-out-early profile over the decades?
Hard to say for sure, but one thing all these guys have in common is that they were part of winning teams over long stretches. With great talent around them, solid performances on their part would tend to boost their individual won-loss records over the long term.
And successful teams — especially successful Yankees teams — tend to play a lot of extra games. A lot of October games.
Gomez, for example, went 6-0 in 50 innings while helping bring five World Series titles to the Bronx in the 1930s.
Ford, Guidry, Pennock, Hunter — they all pitched plenty of postseason innings, too.
Could all those extended seasons have taken a toll on the hurlers’ arms? Hard to see how they wouldn’t have.
One thing’s for sure, though — all of these guys snagged multiple rings for their efforts, making them kings of the diamond.
Or … Diamond Kings.
Find 2018 Diamond Kings on eBay (affiliate link)
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Which makes it all the more fitting that three of them — Ford, Pennock, and Gomez — made the cut for the 2018 Panini Diamond Kings set.
For old-school collectors, that Panini issue doesn’t really look much the Diamond Kings of our youth, as the paintings in this later incarnation are more subdued than the Dick Perez creations of the 1980s.
They take up more room on the card, too, with less design to the overall design.
And, while Panini has issued their DK set every year since 2015, Pennock has been an off-and-on member of the lineup, while Ford made the cut from 2015 through 2019.
Gomez, the leader of the band for this group of Yankees hurlers, stood beside Whitey in the first four sets before dropping out in 2019.
So, is the 2018 Diamond Kings Lefty Gomez card the last time we’ll see the Yankees great on cardboard?
Not likely, given the ongoing interest in the hobby and continued push for cards picturing players from all eras.
Whatever the case, though, that 2018 DK card — representing the premature end to Gomez’s run through the series — is a reminder that, great as Lefty was, he might have left an even bigger legacy if not for that exclusive Yankees fraternity he helped establish.
Of course, you could go a bit more vintage when it comes to Lefty Gomez eye candy. His 1933 Goudey is a colorful, classic card, for example, and you can usually find a few specimens for sale on eBay:
As long as we’re dreaming and scheming about holiday lists, for giving or for asking, this seems like a nifty addition, wouldn’t you agree.
Check out the current listings on eBay (affiliate link).
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