In Sports, You Don't Have To Be Left-Handed (But It Can Help) As a minority that has been historically put upon, southpaws certainly deserve their own holiday this Friday -- International Left-Handers Day. But in sports, every day is left-handers' day. Just look at relief pitchers in the major leagues, or elite tennis players.
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In Sports, Left-Handers Exploit Edge Every Day

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In Sports, Left-Handers Exploit Edge Every Day

In Sports, Left-Handers Exploit Edge Every Day

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our sports commentator Frank Deford is preparing to celebrate what should be a major holiday.

FRANK DEFORD: For the 90 percent of us who do things the right way, it has probably escaped our attention that, for the last 34 years, August 13th has been designated International Left-Handers Day. As a minority that has been historically put upon, you southpaws certainly deserve your own holiday this Friday. However, and not to be gauche about it, but in sports, every day is left-handers' day.

Trust me, if you are a young parent and you want to give your son every advantage - spend a fortune sending him to all the right schools and teaching him all sorts of cultural skills - just save your money.

Instead, tie his right arm behind his back as soon as he gets out of the crib and teach him to be a left-handed relief pitcher, and that kid of yours will still be making a good living pitching when you're in assisted living, him paying your way. A left-handed reliever can go on forever.

Well, so can some southpaw starters. I spoke to Billy Beane, the Oakland A's vice president/general manager, renowned for his command of statistics, and he told me it was absolutely true: The A's figures show that left-handed pitchers, as a group, don't throw as fast as right-handers. But they don't have to be as good. They're needed. Why? Duh. Left-handed pitchers are needed to get left-handed batters out.

It's those sports like baseball, which feature the mano-a-mano component, where port-siders have the edge. The left-handers' propaganda lobby argue that southpaws succeed in sports because they're more influenced by the right side of their brain, which encourages creativity. Right-handers, being left-brained and allegedly duller, maintain that left-handers do well simply because they're rare. Whether it's boxing or wrestling or fencing or tennis, all of a sudden, you're facing a strange creature coming at you differently.

Rafael Nadal, a natural right-hander, was taught to play left-handed, which was why he was just about the only player in the world who could beat Roger Federer when he was the best tennis player in all history. Bill Russell, the great Celtics center, told me that the main reason why he was the greatest shot-blocker in basketball history was simply that his dominant left arm perfectly countered a right-hander's natural shot.

Left-handers aren't so valuable in sports like soccer. Who ever heard of a south-hoof?

So why have left-handers managed to survive evolution in a right-handed world? Well, probably it's because of athletics that lefties are still with us. Being different, they won more duels and passed their genes down to southpaw relief pitchers, who thrive to this day because they're needed against left-handed hitters.

INSKEEP: Frank Deford joins each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. Who knew that relief pitchers who are left-handed had been around long enough to affect evolution?

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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