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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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These mostly involve cerebral organization. In what amounts to cross wiring, the right side of the body is usually controlled by the brain's left hemisphere, which handles verbal tasks like speech and writing. The body's left side is generally governed by the right hemisphere, which is endowed with power of visual and spatial perception. One would think, and some of the researchers do, that the resulting tendency would be for righthanders to be analytical and practical and for southpaws to be free-spirited, creative and illogical.

But difficulties arise when you start carrying any of this too far, as witness the various studies suggesting that lefthanders are more given to alcoholism, suicide, dyslexia and the rest. Curtis Hardyck, professor of educational psychology at the University of California, has plowed through more than 200 such studies and found a tendency toward bias and inadequate sampling. "Most of the evidence just doesn't stand up," Hardyck says. "There's a tendency to overinterpret results, a feeling that lefthanders, because they're different from the majority, are somehow wrong. The fact that da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin were overlooked."

The same thing happens in sport, whose cherished stereotypes necessarily ignore as inconvenient the bland lefthanders like Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax and Rod Laver—or eccentric righties like Jimmy Piersall, Mark Fidrych and Ilie Nastase. We may chuckle at the fact that newly acquired Montreal southpaw Will McEnaney sometimes walked an imaginary dog outside the clubhouse when he was with Indianapolis. But what about the reaction of his manager, Vern Rapp, recently hired to pilot the St. Louis Cardinals? He once shouted in exasperation, " McEnaney, get that damned dog inside." Rapp is right-handed.

Much of the left-handed lore surely is nurtured by the southpaws themselves. Few of them have ever been more genuinely zany than onetime Yankee Pitcher Lefty (Vernon) Gomez, who was nicknamed Goofy after making known his intentions of constructing a "fish saver," a revolving goldfish bowl that would spare occupants the need to swim. But the shrewd Gomez was also a box office attraction, and he goes on cultivating his role as a fun-loving southpaw even today. Now a popular after-dinner speaker, he delights in regaling audiences with stories of how his high-spirited Chihuahua, Taco, is a lefty, too. How does he know? Deadpans Gomez, "When he goes to the fireplug, he raises his left leg."

There are other reasons for quirkiness among left-handed pitchers. Because they are in demand, lefties often get away with things that might get righthanders in hot water, and this includes wildness both on the mound and off. St. Louis Cardinal Reliever Al Hrabosky allows that he was so unpromising a prospect that he would never have been offered a contract if he were a righthander. "But I was a lefty so they took a chance," he says. Of his own deportment, which includes stomping around on the mound and casting baleful glances toward home plate, Hrabosky says, "I want the batter to think I'm crazy. I want him to know I'm crazy."

The fact that athletes are somewhat freer these days to ply their craft as southpaws no doubt accounts for much of the new lefty surge in sport.

"There is reason to believe that lefthanders are better athletes," says University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Ruben Gur, who specializes in laterality. "Left-handedness can result in different ways. In some lefthanders, the spatial functioning appears to dominate, giving them better spatial perception and perhaps quicker reflexes. Lefthanders as a group also tend to be more ambidextrous. In part it's because their brain organization tends to be more bilateral than righthanders'. But it may also be because of social adaptation. The lefthander in society is forced to use both hands."

And now consider how lefthanders have persisted on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, which woke up a few years ago and discovered that some 30% of its leading prize winners were southpaws. There was good reason for it. When PBA officials arrived at a tournament site, they determined that the right side of each lane, having received more of the action, was often worn and rutted, causing difficulties for the right-handed pros. Bowling on smoother surfaces—finding their "grooves" easier—southpaws flourished. Amid threats of a boycott by righthanders, an alarmed PBA got out the lacquer and oil and began doing a better job of "equalizing" conditions. A lot of southpaws began disappearing, but not all. Today lefthanders still make up 14% of the top bowlers, and one of them. Earl Anthony, in 1975 became the first bowler to win $100,000. It was his third straight year as the PBA's No. 1 prize winner.

Anthony is a quiet ex-grocery clerk from Tacoma. He says, "Conditions on the tour used to be unfair to righthanders. We lefthanders could stand and bowl from the same place while righthanders always had to move around to change the speeds and angles on the ball. When the PBA decided to act, I was able to cope. I always studied righthanders and I adjusted. Bowling is a game of adjustment and that's easier for lefthanders anyway. Heck, in life that's all we do."

The winners of the Lefty-Righty championship in Myrtle Beach were Duane Streets, an insuranceman, and Morris Masten, a schoolteacher, both from Indianapolis. They shot a best-ball score of 277 to whip 90 other teams in the 72-hole competition. Streets was the lefthander. Masten was the other one.

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