It is true, of course, that lefties have been able to exploit the element of surprise in some sports. Among their victims have been:
?Those hockey players flattened by the Boston Bruins' Wayne Cashman, a lefthander and accomplished NHL brawler, who says, "The key to a hockey fight is the first punch. When you're a lefty and they're looking for the right hand it helps."
? Dolph Schayes, who toward the end of his NBA career had a lot of trouble guarding a young Bill Russell. Not until Russell's third season, as the Boston Celtic star finished shooting a free throw, did Schayes sidle up to him and say in honest surprise, "Damn, Bill, I didn't know you were left-handed."
?A husky bartender in Wellsville, Utah, who was beaten in arm wrestling by Dick Motta, a little fellow who would go on to become an NBA coach. Motta had his right arm in a sling, and the bartender, not suspecting he was up against a southpaw, charitably agreed to wrestle left-handed. "Needless to say, I killed him," recalls Motta.
?The many trout reeled in by Lefty (Bernard) Kreh, outdoors editor for the Baltimore Sun. "If you go up a stream, righthanders are all casting the same way," he says. "Lefties cast into places the other guys don't fish."
Even without surprising anybody, southpaw fencers are so hard to handle that they make up perhaps one-fourth of the sport's top performers, including some—and this is a switch in every sense—who convert to southpaw. The main impetus for the practice seems to have come from Guiseppe Mangiarotti, an Italian fencing master of the 1920s who had two sons and a daughter, all righthanders. He trained the daughter and son Edoardo as lefties—and Edoardo went on to become one of the most accomplished swordsmen in fencing history.
Southpaws who play tennis enjoy an advantage that the best of them, Connors, unblinkingly reckons at "about 5%." Befuddled opponents generally agree that southpaws put more spin on their serves and in general play a wristier game. The lefty is further helped by the fact that crucial points are served in ad court, when he is serving to the righty's backhand. And if the righthander is serving, it is to the lefty's forehand, presumably his strength.
All of which is a source of melancholy to Rosewall, who as a young boy in Australia was taught by his father to play right-handed even though he wrote and threw a ball lefty. The throwing motion being virtually the same as the serve, it is no surprise that the latter became Rosewall's chief weakness. "In those days there was a tendency to force kids to use the right hand," he says wistfully. "I've often wondered if my serve would have been better had I played left-handed." In that event, perhaps his splendid backhand might have suffered.
In basketball, the lefthander theoretically has no better than a mixed time of it, because on offense he is apt to be dribbling with his strong hand opposite the defender's right hand. But opponents swear that southpaws are given to sleight of hand; Coach Motta notes that, for whatever reason, some of the NBA's best alltime playmakers, Guy Rodgers, Lenny Wilkens and Nate Archibald, have been lefties. And on defense, everything works to the lefty's advantage. Another coach with a personal interest in these things, Maryland's Lefty ( Charles) Driesell, notes of Russell, "When he was blocking a shot, he went up with his left hand and was automatically on the side the righthander was shooting from." Russell, of course, was celebrated as the game's greatest shot blocker.
Lefthanders may enjoy such advantages that they sometimes create new hardships for themselves. It happens in the prize ring, where everybody complains about the difficulty of "solving" southpaws. The result is that lefthanders experience heartwarming successes in the amateur ranks but have trouble getting fights as pros. Confronted by what amounts to a freeze-out, their managers usually turn southpaws around, which is how Basilio came to be a right-handed world champion—a two-fisted one, to be sure—as both a welterweight and a middleweight. Few pure, unreclaimed southpaws have ever won world titles, none the heavyweight crown.