Lefty O’Doul’s arm thieves given warm welcome back

The free beer was flowing Thursday at Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant in San Francisco for “Team Duct Tape,” whose members gained fame for stealing the arm of the restaurant’s namesake and then mailing it back more than three years later.

It was a plastic arm, of course, taken from a mannequin of the legendary left-handed baseball player that stands inside the historic Union Square establishment.

The arm was snagged in a moment of drunken revelry, and the restaurant’s owners thought it was gone for good — until a package arrived in July filled with packaging peanuts, photos, a letter … and the missing appendage.

The photos showed the arm with members of the Iowa-based Team Duct Tape, which is “loosely defined” as a biking group, according to its members, who are longtime friends.

The arm appears in one photo before a backdrop of the Des Moines skyline and in front of the state Capitol in another. Several shots include alcohol; in one, the arm is reaching down a woman’s shirt.

When the arm came back, the restaurant held a “reattachment party,” although the arm is now enclosed in a case next to the mannequin that includes the letter and photos.

On Thursday, six members of Team Duct Tape paid a visit to Lefty O’Doul’s, where their beers were on the house. The group included Des Moines resident Doug Kintzle, 45, who mailed the arm back to San Francisco.

“We were going to send it back a lot sooner and we just kept forgetting,” Kintzle said. “It ended up in my basement.”

Also in the group was a mysterious man in a baseball cap who declined to give his name and denied any connection to the theft.

However, his photo appears in the arm’s display case with the words “My Abductor” written in across the top.

“I’d be willing to say I can’t comment,” he said.

Despite their vague answers, details about the night of the abduction began to emerge as a beer glow reddened the cheeks of Team Duct Tape’s members.

They hadn’t meant to break off the arm, explained one man in a checkered shirt who identified himself as “John.”

The bar was packed that night, and the group had been drinking for a while, he said. It started with someone removing the mannequin’s warm-up jacket, then a hat. 

“It was like in real slow motion” over the course of several hours, he said.

Eventually, someone removed the mannequin’s jersey — and, accidentally, the arm.

“Nobody really knew what happened until the jersey came off and the arm came with it,” the man said.

That’s when the details get fuzzy. At some point there was a chase, but “John” said the chase happened when the abductor came back 15 minutes after stealing the arm.

The way Lefty O’Doul’s manager Chuck Davis tells it, bar staff members were hot on the thieves’ trail as they ran across the street into the Westin St. Francis Hotel.

The owner’s wife called the hotel and asked, “Did a man just come in with an arm?” Davis said.

Yes, she was told, but it was too late.

“How can you track someone in the St. Francis if they’ve got a one-minute start and got in an elevator?” Davis said.

The mysterious man in the baseball cap, while still denying involvement, said he had “heard” that the abductor had quite a time going through airport security on his way home.

“Give that man a hand,” the security screeners joked, according to his account.

Once in Iowa, the arm’s party days didn’t start right away, Kintzle said.

“The abductor brought the arm to his place of employment, and it hung on a cubicle wall for a while,” he said.

Nostalgia took hold as Kintzle told the tale.

“I kind of miss the arm,” he said. “I wanted to take it a few more places.”

Davis, the restaurant manager, had a twinkle of awe in his eye as he recounted the caper.

“Well done. Very well done,” he said.

He made the comparison to the French film “Amelie,” in which the protagonist steals her father’s garden gnome and sends him snapshots of the gnome taken in cities around the world.

“It’s better than the gnome,” Davis said. “This just beats it all to hell.”


Video by Lauren Justice/Special to The Examiner

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