Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

In Sports, Southpaws Needn't Feel Left Out

If you're interested in having your son support you in your old age, here is my vocational advice to you: Starting when he's in the crib, turn him into a left-hander, and then train him to become a relief pitcher. There's always a well-paying place for layabout southpaw relievers, well up into their athletic dotage.

You see, while lefties moan that the world at large discriminates against them — even though in modern times we usually find ourselves ruled by them, i.e. southpaw Presidents Truman, Ford, Reagan, Bush the elder and Clinton (and yes, two guys named McCain and Obama) — our sinister brethren have all the advantages in sports whenever they directly face right-handers.

Now an engineering professor named David Peters has come up with some basic statistics, which show what we righties always knew anyway, that baseball in particular is a gauche paradise. And that ain't no left-handed compliment.

Whereas only about 10 percent of the whole human population is lefty, Peters revealed that about 25 percent of major leaguers are the minority-handed sort of people. More significant, in the Hall of Fame, of the 70 pitchers, 15 were southpaw — more than twice the Homo sapiens average. And hitters: of the 138 in Cooperstown, 59 were lefty, and eight more half-lefty switch-hitters. That means that an incredible 46 percent of the best hitters ever swung at those appetizing right-handed slants.

In basketball, left-handed shooters have always driven opponents crazy. The game's greatest defensive player, Bill Russell, was a southpaw, which meant that his strong arm matched perfectly for blocking right-handers' shots.

In tennis, the ball spins differently off a left-hander's racket. Hello, Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer's shots that go to a fellow right-hander's weakness, bounce right into Nadal's wheelhouse. Just as a statistically unusual number of baseball's greatest hitters — Cobb, Ruth, Williams, Gwynn, Bonds — were left-handed, so does Nadal come from distinguished lefty lineage — Laver, McEnroe, Connors, Navratilova.

Somebody once wrote that John McEnroe would be just another losing quarterfinalist if he were right-handed. McEnroe was furious. Of course, if there'd been a fight, he surely would have battered the writer.

Left-handed boxers are a scourge other fighters try to avoid. In fact, there's a theory postulated by two French sociologists at the University of Montpellier that lefties succeed so in sport because back when men faced off in man-to-man combat, lefties prevailed more often, living to pass those victorious genes on.

The best proof that lefties have an advantage in man-to-man competition comes, conversely, from golf, where you're not playing your opponent, only that neutral little ball. In the whole history of the PGA, left-handers have won only 37 tournaments, and Phil Mickelson has personally accounted for more than half of them. Mickelson might have won even more if he didn't make so many ditzy decisions.

But then, of course, as us in the smug right-handed majority are so sure of in defeat, left-handers might have the advantage in sport, but God evened that out by making them goofier.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford