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On the Other Hand...
Jerry Kirshenbaum
January 24, 1977
...we have the poor southpaw, the portsider, the unloved lefty, who must make it through life against all that seems right and holy
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January 24, 1977

On The Other Hand...

...we have the poor southpaw, the portsider, the unloved lefty, who must make it through life against all that seems right and holy

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But, revealingly, the most important generalization about lefthanders is one that people usually neglect to make—the possiblity that as a group they may be the best natural athletes. Everybody knows that Babe Ruth batted and threw left-handed but few seem to appreciate that lefties—just 10% of the population, remember—more recently have been achieving high stature in sport after sport. Bill Russell, once basketball's dominant figure, is left-handed and so is Iuliana Semenova, the 7-foot-plus Russian who was the leading woman player at the '76 Olympics. Running Back Gale Sayers, among the best ever at that position, is left-handed, and no current NFL quarterback is more proficient than lefthander Ken Stabler. Of the world's 10 best tennis players, no fewer than four—Jimmy Connors, Manuel Orantes, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner—are lefties.

The list goes on. West Indian Gary Sobers, cricket's greatest all-rounder, is left-handed. So is Bud Muehleisen, six-time international open singles racquetball champion. Likewise Steve Mizerak, arguably the biggest name in pocket billiards, and Earl Anthony and Patty Costello, the same among the world's bowlers. Young Greg Louganis, everybody's choice as diving's next superstar, is left-handed and so is sport's foremost transsexual, Renee Richards, Bill Hartack, Dave Cowens, Mark Spitz and Dorothy Hamill—lefthanders all. The world's greatest athlete? Montreal Olympic decathlon champion and world-record holder Bruce Jenner is a southpaw, naturally.

Give them anything like a fair shake, and those crazy, bowlegged, injury-prone and, yes, awkward lefthanders obviously do rather well. Of course, they get a far fairer shake in some areas than others.

"It happens all the time," says Ken Stabler. "A guy will come up to me in a bar or somewhere and say. 'Hey, Ken, I'm a lefthander, too.' And it means something to me. I don't care how obnoxious he might be. I think, hey, maybe he's not such a bad Joe. There's a bond there."

As Stabler's talk of a "bond" suggests, lefthanders are conscious of being a minority and an oppressed one at that. And while they have not taken to the streets in sinistral force, some of them have been known to joke about drafting a "bill of lefts," while others have been moved to wear T shirts inscribed LEFTHANDERS OF THE WORLD UNITE. It is in this spirit of unity that a Manhattan. Kans. beer distributor named Dean Campbell launched Lefthanders International, an organization that puts out a quarterly magazine and urges members to say "true" instead of "right." It may sound frivolous, but Campbell has struck a responsive chord in some 3,000 fellow lefties who pay $12 a year to belong to his organization.

Still, the meaningful breakthroughs are few. It is a positive development, for instance, that fewer children are called "Lefty" these days. Similarly, today's parents and teachers hesitate to make children "change hands." having been scared off by evidence that forced conversions can cause bedwetting, stuttering or other trauma.

Another sign of the times is the proliferation of emporiums around the U.S. like the Left Hand, primarily a mail-order concern on the 10th floor of a loft building on Manhattan's West Side that does a brisk business in objects designed for lefties, including corkscrews that turn to the left, a large selection of special scissors and instruction books for the southpaw embroiderer. "It makes me mad the way everything is designed for righthanders," says June Gittleson, the left-handed proprietress.

Scratch left-handed athletes and most will be found, like Gittleson, to harbor pet grievances. The Detroit Pistons' Bob Lanier is tired of bumping elbows with righthanders at the dinner table. The San Diego Padres' Randy Jones plaintively wishes that some waitress would—just once—put his drinking glass on the left. And Jimmy Connors tells of actually having to concentrate in order to discharge one of life's basic amenities. "When I'm shaking hands, sometimes I put my left hand out." he says. "It's tough for me to shake right-handed."

The burden of inhabiting a right-handed world prompts Philadelphia Phillie southpaw Tug McGraw to keep a mental checklist in which he divides objects between those that are "fair" to lefties (ladders, water glasses, diving boards) and those that are "prejudiced" (auto ignitions, dial phones). Another aggrieved lefty, Dallas Cowboy Defensive Tackle Larry Cole, waxes mildly militant over the fact that handwriting goes from left to right, dooming the southpaw to a smudged hand as he writes.

"We ought to be writing right to left." Cole says indignantly. "That's why lefties turn their arms around to the top to write—so they can pull the pen across the page. Well. I refuse to do it."

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