From Richard Sandomir at the New York Times on February 9, 2013, with mention of SABR member Tom Shieber:
Before the release of “The Pride of the Yankees,” the 1942 biographical film about Lou Gehrig, there were reports that movie magic had been needed to solve a critical problem: making Gary Cooper, a right-handed movie star who was definitely not a ballplayer, into a credible version of the left-handed Gehrig, a Hall of Fame slugger with a .340 career batting average.
Lefty O’Doul, a former major leaguer, had been hired to convert Cooper into someone who could at least pretend he was a left-handed hitter and first baseman. But just days before the film opened, Shirley Povich, a Washington Post columnist, called reports that O’Doul had succeeded in his work “a heap of hokum.” Instead, he wrote, “everything you see Cooper doing left-handed in the picture, he’s actually doing right-handed.”
The effect was achieved, he said, through trickery. Cooper would hit, catch and throw right-handed, but the film would be reversed to make it look as if he were a left-hander. To perpetuate the illusion, Cooper would run to third base on a hit, not first, and would station himself at third instead of first. The letters across the chest of his Yankees uniform would be sewn backward.
Everything, Povich said, “worked out beautifully.”
Now, more than 70 years later, one researcher believes that reports by Povich and others about the cinematic sleight of hand were largely untrue but that a small amount of flipping probably took place. The researcher said that O’Doul’s tutelage probably enabled Cooper, who was 40 when the film was made, to bat and catch left-handed with passable skill, although throwing was another matter.
“O’Doul knew a lot about teaching baseball,” said the researcher, Tom Shieber, a senior curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “You can’t sell Cooper short. I heard he wasn’t much of an athlete, but if you look at his swing, it had a funny loop to it, but it wasn’t bad.”
Shieber began analyzing the film last month and ended up spelling out his conclusions in a lengthy article early this week on his personal blog, BaseballResearcher.blogspot.com.
Originally published: February 11, 2013. Last Updated: February 11, 2013.