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It really turns out that left-handed pitchers are people. John Antonelli of the New York Giants, a good lefthander of the current school, thinks it's silly to classify lefties as temperamental screwballs. And if you take a close look at John, a good-looking, serious, well-mannered, hard-working young family man, you are bound to agree.
Maybe you, but not Al Schacht, the restaurateur, raconteur, entertainer, baseball clown, onetime baseball coach and onetime (1919-1921) American League pitcher. Schacht holds that lefthanders per se are strange.
"They have crooked arms," Schacht explained once. "They throw crooked, they walk crooked and they think crooked. They even wear their clothes crooked. You have to figure they're a little crazy."
Schacht was reminded that he himself was more than slightly famous for his own zany antics on the diamond. He once smuggled a nickel rocket, a soft sawdust-filled boys' baseball, to be used against a feared slugger. Yet he was undeniably a right-hander. Was this not so?
"Sure," Schacht admitted. "But I think left-handed."
Schacht's blanket indictment of left-handed pitchers is an enjoyable hyperbole, but even the most conservative baseball fan has to admit that he has a deep-seated, nagging belief—and perhaps even a hope—that Schacht is essentially right, despite evidence to the contrary.
Certainly Warren Spahn, the great left-handed pitching star of the Milwaukee Braves and the dean of today's lefties, refutes Schacht and supports Antonelli. Spahn over the past decade has been just about the best pitcher in baseball (see box next page) and surely the best left-hander. Yet he is a quiet, conservative and completely unremarkable (except for his pitching skill) man, and the rest of the left-handers around the big leagues seem for the most part to follow the same pattern.
Even so, there is something about the idea of a left-handed pitcher—something that may derive from a childhood memory of Rube Waddell or Lefty Gomez, or from hearing too many fine old baseball legends, but something—that makes the casual fan forget the plain, unorthodox lefthander like Antonelli or Spahn and in his stead remember indelibly someone like Wilmer David (Vinegar Bend) Mizell of the St. Louis Cardinals, the large young man pictured below.
Mizell is no screwball; he is a determined, ambitious young pitcher. But he has an appealing drawl, a facile tongue, a warm, memorable face and that wonderful nickname. And, of course, a left arm. A right-handed Vinegar Bend would be colorful; a left-handed one is something else again: the heir apparent to a gay tradition. He is watched hopefully, almost eagerly; maybe any moment now he'll steal a ride on a fire engine or appear on the pitcher's mound in Bermuda shorts.
If not Mizell, maybe someone else, for life follows art. Some young pitchers, discovering simultaneously that they throw left-handed and that in baseball eccentric left-handers are considered box office attractions, perhaps cultivate the bizarre side of their personality a little more assiduously than they might ordinarily. If so, it is sound business, and more power to them.