Lefty Gomez was one of baseball's greatest pitchers -- and wackiest. Four times in the 1930s he won 20 games for the Yankees, and he still holds the World Series record for most wins (six) without a defeat. "El Goofo" was his nickname, and he once held up a World Series game to watch an airplane pass overhead.
But nothing about Gomez has endured so much as his witticisms. "The secret to my success is clean living and a fast outfield," he once said. And, "I've got a new invention. It's a revolving bowl for tired goldfish."
Gomez also is credited with originating an axiom that remains true today: "I'd rather be lucky than good."
Blake Citrowske would agree. He's hunted deer for only 20 minutes of his 23 years. But each of those minutes was lucky.
In that span on a recent evening, employing a hand-me-down 1980s vintage bow, and an arrow he bought at Wal-Mart, he killed a monster buck that tipped the scales at 242 pounds, field-dressed -- a whitetail far bigger than all but a relative handful of the nearly 500,000 gun hunters who will be afield this weekend will stumble across.
"Swamp Donkey," as Citrowske and his pal Andy Eha named the big buck, brandished 14-point antlers that measured more than 180 inches -- record-book bound.
"Andy gave me his old bow, and I bought some $5 arrows and $6 broadheads at Wal-Mart to go with it," Citrowske said. "I practiced target shooting for three days straight. Because the bow didn't fit me, I had to aim 2 feet below the bull's-eye to hit it.
"It's crazy how I had to compensate. But I got pretty good with it."
Eha, a seasoned archer, had used trail cameras for three years to sneak peeks at Swamp Donkey as he sauntered in and about Ramsey, near Anoka, moving almost exclusively at night.
Then, on Oct. 20, at 4 p.m., he, Citrowske and another friend headed into the woods with their bows. This was Citrowske's debut hunt. Never before had he been in a tree stand.
"I'd only sat there about 15 minutes when I heard a twig snap and a crash in the woods," Citrowske said. "I knew right away it was a deer. Not two seconds later, just 50 yards ahead of me, out pops a very familiar face.
"It was Swamp Donkey. And he was walking right for me!"
In a lengthy written account that recalls some of the great travails and triumphs of Odysseus, Citrowske penned what happened next:
As Swamp Donkey made his way in my direction, I waited for him to get just on the other side of a small tree so I could pull back my bow. He did, I did, and as I lined up my sights, he walked right into it, and stopped. I spent about one more second making sure I was going to place the right shot on him.
Then I aimed just behind his left leg, held my breath and ...
Recall now our friend Lefty Gomez. "A lot of things go through your head when you're going in to relieve in a tight spot," he once said. "One of them was, 'Should I spike myself?'"
But Gomez never did. He always reached back -- and delivered.
So did Citrowske.
... I released the arrow. I heard the infamous 'twang' of my bow. And in a split second, I directed my eyes from my bow sight to his face. In that same split second, he looked up at me, as I heard the slap of my arrow pass through both of his lungs.
Just now, hundreds of thousands of hunters are, or soon will be, motoring toward deer camps pitched in the woods from Warroad to Worthington, Ely to Elysian.
Many are sporting types who have exactly the right equipment and more than enough savvy to bag a wall-hanger buck this weekend.
At what they're about to do, they're good.
But on these first days of the deer season, when fortune seems to cast her favors so randomly, they have to ask themselves:
Would they rather be good?
In 1934, Lefty Gomez went 26-5, with a 2.33 ERA, a feat rarely equaled.
Yet even he knew the answer.
So does Citrowske.
First, last and always, be lucky.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org