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Let us ignore science for the moment and accept the premise that lefthanders do succeed in unfriendly environments, that they hit .300 at unlikely rates (of the top 50 players ranked by career batting average, 30 hit lefthanded), defend the jump shot much better ( Bill Russell, 'nuf said?) and drive orthodox boxers crazy--within a shorter, boozier, possibly bipolar life span! Accepting that premise (you've read this far), let us then examine some of the lateral hostility out there, and the lefthander's consistently subversive approach to his own survival.
Let's start with baseball, which, by its very design, is lateral-exclusive. A lefty is denied nearly half the positions on the diamond, just because the field was drawn with righthand action in mind. The righthanded batter faces first, and all properly right-armed infielders have easy throws there. There have been a few lefthanded catchers in history, but they have been kept from behind the plate by the scarcity of equipment, their difficulty throwing the ball to second and especially third with a righthanded batter at the plate and the tendency of a lefty's throw to tail away from the runner; there will be a woman president long before there's another lefthanded catcher.
Oddly, the lefthander has found a way to prosper, or seem to, against these odds. Coren investigated this idea and was forced to admit that while position players were represented by lefthanders only slightly more than in the general population, the relative preponderance of lefthanded pitchers--as much as a third of a staff--was evidence that somebody thought lefties had an advantage. But not him. "A myth," he says.
What Coren fails to understand is that the exploitation of handedness is just about the only opportunity for a manager to complicate an absurdly simple game. The deployment of lefthanded relievers, or pinch-hitters, has become a vital strategy in baseball, more so than in any other sport we know. How important is it? Managers would be at a loss to demonstrate their wizardry if not for the ability to orchestrate a double switch. It is one of the few buttons they can push.
The upshot is, baseball is the most hospitable place for southpaws of athletic ambition, sometimes to the point of silliness. For some reason general managers value lefthanded hitters according to position, so that a lefthanded-hitting catcher will have a job for life; his .250 average trumps a righthander's. As Pete Rose once said of a lefthanded player, "If he was righthanded, he'd be in the minors." Pitching is where it really gets nuts. Apparently no G.M. can bear to part with a lefthanded pitcher. Jesse Orosco, a southpaw of middling distinction, played to the age of 46; the Arizona Diamondbacks remained willing to pay him $800,000 to turn 47 on their dime.
The science behind this premium on lefthanders at the plate and on the mound is, as you would expect of baseball, somewhat murky. Coren can think of only one condition under which a lefty should excel, and that's when he is right-eyed. He believes, from seeing pictures of Ted Williams looking through a camera and Babe Ruth looking through a telescope, that their right eyes were dominant, and that having their dominant eye directly aimed at the pitcher explains their hitting ability. Dr. Galaburda, meanwhile, theorizes that southpaws tend to have more dexterity in their off hand than righthanders do in theirs; a southpaw is thus more ambidextrous, more capable in more situations. ( Williams threw righthanded; Ruth signed his name with his right.)
However, baseball, despite its inherent bias, truly believes the lefthander enjoys a very real advantage. Baseball tutorial: It seems that the lefthanded hitter, besides his lifelong familiarity with righthanded pitching, has a step-and-a-half lead to first base and a bigger hole on his side of the infield when the first baseman is holding a runner on the bag; a southpaw pitcher has a much easier pickoff play and, moreover, neutralizes all those lefthanded hitters by throwing a curve that breaks away from them.
There is one other explanation for a handed advantage that makes sense. Occasionally, because old-time ballparks were constructed according to architectural whimsy, there will be a stadium that plays one way or another. Fenway Park, with its Green Monster, is a pretty nice place for a righthanded hitter to be banging away. Yankee Stadium, with its 295 feet to the rightfield pole (and vast left-center on the other side), is, on the other hand, far more comfortable for lefthanded sluggers. The House that Ruth Built was in fact built for Ruth.
This is a good place, by way of digression, to point out that the acceptance of southpaws comes at a price. Baseball's embrace of the lefthander (in a game that seems to stack the deck against him) is somewhat tempered by its constant slurring of the southpaw. He's wild, and he's crazy.
Until Coren does a follow-up study, all evidence of handed-eccentricity is anecdotal. Which is to say, it mostly falls on Lefty Gomez. This guy, all on his own, established the stereotype of lateral goofiness. Baseball has had plenty of screwballs, of course, but when the screwball is actually named Lefty, the search for the source of his craziness is somewhat simplified. Gomez is the pitcher--a pretty good one, too--who invented the revolving bowl for tired goldfish. Well, he said he did. The Yankees Hall of Famer actually said lots of things, mostly self-deprecating, usually funny. Once he explained, "The secret of my success was clean living and a fast outfield."