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Often enough, the southpaw has a scarcely less vexing time of it in his own sport. There are some shotguns and bolt-action rifles that lefthanders can operate without making like contortionists, but these are usually available only on special order—and at a higher price. Most fishing reels, virtually all hunting mittens and most automobile tools are also made-for-righty. There are plenty of left-handed baseball gloves on the market, but problems occur here, too: Aunt Sarah can be counted on to give her sinistral nephew a right-handed glove for Christmas.
There is, in addition, the problem of instruction. Most how-to films and books are produced for you-know-who, forcing southpaws to translate every "right" into "left" and to stand in front of mirrors wearing perplexed expressions. Los Angeles Dodger Broadcaster Vin Scully, a lefthander, swore off golf books the way some people do cigarettes. "It drove me crazy trying to figure out what those books were talking about," he says. Group instruction is no better. Even when instructors bother to offer special help, the lefthander wishes they wouldn't; it only means the righthanders in class will glare at him for wasting their time.
Baltimore Wide Receiver Glenn Doughty recalls that when he was a running back at Michigan, Coach Bo Schembechler required him to line up in a right-handed stance for no apparent reason other than conformity. Doughty is free to assume his natural lefty stance with the Colts, but the NFL was not exactly quick to overcome its prejudice against sinistral quarterbacks, one that Frankie Albert was practically alone in defying a generation ago. One reason for the taboo was an understandable reluctance to entrust a team to somebody who could be counted on to be crazy. Another was the belief that a lefthander's spiral was hard to handle—assuming, of course, that he got the ball anywhere near the receiver.
Everything considered, it is not surprising that Stabler began his football career as a receiver. But his arm was so good that a Pee Wee coach finally relented and made him a quarterback. Stabler's stardom at Alabama and Oakland has helped spark a boomlet in southpaw quarterbacks, among them his Oakland understudy David Humm, Seattle's Jim Zorn, New Orleans' Bobby Douglass and Michigan's Rick Leach. Stabler insists, "If anything, being a lefty was a very slight advantage, at least at first, because you look different to the defense. And that's nonsense about the spirals. Biletnikoff and those guys are going to catch the ball no matter how it spirals."
For all the apparent enlightenment, Jim Del Gaizo is able to claim that Cincinnati Coach Paul Brown cut him in 1971 because "he couldn't take to the idea of a left-handed quarterback. He just belonged to the old school of NFL coaches." And it is significant that Stabler takes the ball from center with his right hand on top, exactly as a righty would. While he does not remember exactly who taught him ("It happened somewhere along the line"), it was presumably done to avoid mix-ups with right-handed centers. What makes this ironic is that Oakland Center Dave Dalby is a natural lefty who snaps the ball right-handed on everything but kicks, having been converted by his coaches at UCLA.
But football is a veritable Utopia for southpaws compared to golf, which is why there is a National Association of Left-handed Golfers staging tournaments like those in Myrtle Beach. Founded in the 1930s, the NALG is unhappy that Ben Hogan, Phil Rodgers and many other natural southpaws switched to right-hand play. It yearns in vain for the arrival of a "left-handed Nicklaus," but has come no closer so far than New Zealander Bob Charles, a PGA veteran whose brightest moment was when he won the 1963 British Open in a playoff against the turncoat Rodgers. So heady was the win that participants in an NALG tournament in California delivered sentimental speeches hailing Charles as "our champion."
One reason for "turning around" lefthanders is the longstanding unavailability of left-handed clubs. Thanks partly to NALG pressure on manufacturers, there is now a wider selection. Because club pros often are the ones selling the clubs, it is not surprising to find some of them increasingly disposed to let youngsters play left-handed. But other instructors still turn southpaws around in the genuine belief it will improve their game. They argue that golf courses the world over are laid out to favor righthanders and that the switchee will benefit from having his stronger side into the shot � la Hogan.
Hogan himself, in his book Power Golf, denies that golf-course architecture necessarily favors righthanders and blames his boyhood conversion on misinformed friends who advised him that lefties never made good golfers. Says Hogan, "At that age I was gullible enough to believe them and to make the change, but I wouldn't now." At any rate, if it does help having one's strong side into the shot, why don't these same instructors switch natural righthanders to southpaws? As it happens, Bob Charles is the reverse of Hogan, a natural righty who took up the game left-handed simply because that was how both his parents played it.
Left-handed discus men have problems, too. They throw from circles usually laid out in such a way, says Bruce Jenner, that the wind "forces the lefthander's throw to dive. You might lose anywhere from five to 10 feet." The ultimate in discrimination, however, is to be found in polo, which has adopted a rule that will eventually outlaw left-handed play altogether. The ban, enacted by the U.S. Polo Association in 1973, was seen as a logical extension of the hallowed right-of-way rule that players meeting head on must carry the ball on the right side of the pony.
"It's a safety measure to avoid collisions," says John Oxley, a prime mover at the Boca Raton ( Fla.) polo grounds. "There's nothing more sacred in polo than the right of way." Much the same thing could have been accomplished by ruling that players must carry the ball on the left side, but that might have logically led to the banning of righthanders. And things just don't happen that way.