Thursday, July 17, 2008

Go Left, Young Man!

Here is a great article printed last week in the Cleveland Plain Dealer through the Associated Press:

Best way to Cooperstown? Go left
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Jim Salter
Associated Press

St. Louis -- David Peters was born left-handed. It took a few raps on the hand by teachers, but like many in his generation, he switched to being a righty.
Maybe that's why Peters, now 61, became a scholar instead of a first baseman.
Peters is an engineering professor at Washington University in St. Louis who happens to be a baseball nut. He looked at baseball from an engineer's perspective and determined southpaws have a decided advantage.

"Ninety percent of the human population is right-handed, but in baseball 25 percent of the players, both pitchers and hitters, are left-handed," Peters said.
"Do lefties have an advantage? They definitely do. The statistics bear that out."
Peters' observations were for an article on the university Web site, not a scholarly journal. Still, they drew the interest of experts at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., who at the request of the Associated Press crunched the numbers of lefties and righties in the Hall, the first time they had done so.
Of the 61 enshrined pitchers, 13 are left-handed, according to John Odell, curator of history and research at the Hall of Fame. At 21 percent, that's more than twice the percentage of lefties in the general population.
The numbers for hitters were even more startling. Odell said 71 Hall of Fame position players batted right-handed, 59 left-handed, and eight were switch-hitters.
"Almost parity there," Odell said. "That's way up over what you'd expect to see if people were playing the way their handedness would suggest."
Among the left-handed hitters are some of the game's greatest names: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Barry Bonds and George Brett.
Peters said left-handed hitters are simply taking advantage of a game set up to favor them, starting with the direction the hitter runs to first base.
As a right-handed hitter swings, his momentum carries him the wrong way -- toward third base. A lefty, already standing roughly 5 feet closer to first base, swings and naturally spins in the correct direction.
"And that means the lefty travels the 90 feet to first roughly one-sixth of a second faster than the righty," Peters said. That translates to more hits and a higher batting average.
Because most pitchers are right-handed, the left-handed hitter also tends to have a matchup advantage.
"You see the ball better" as a left-handed hitter facing a right-handed pitcher, Peters said. "You get depth perception. A right-handed batter facing a right-handed pitcher actually has to pick up the ball visually as it comes from behind [the batter's] left shoulder. You've lost a lot of that split-second timing to pick up the ball."
According to, lefties hit .272 against right-handed pitchers last season. Righties vs. righties hit .261. Against left-handed pitching, righties hit .281, lefties just .251. But there were 122,053 at-bats against right-handed pitchers last season, nearly three times as many as the 45,730 against lefties.
Peters said southpaw pitchers have built-in advantages, because hitters simply don't see them often.
Not all advantages go to lefties. Catchers are nearly all right-handed. Infielders except for first basemen are virtually all right-handed because a lefty would have to make an awkward turn to get into throwing position.
Odell notes that it's not being left-handed, but rather hitting left-handed, that appears to be the advantage, at least among Hall of Famers. Just 22 of the 138 position players were pure lefties -- batting and throwing left. But 37 right-handed throwers hit left-handed. Among left-handed throwers, none hit right-handed.

I love this article!
However, I believe there is another slant to this. Being born left-handed, you are immediately thrust into an opposite world that you must learn to adapt to, standout as a complete freak, or compromise and be an adapted freak. Opening jars with the opposite hand certainly develops muscles and adaptability that a right-handed person may not have the opportunity to develop so completely. Tools are right-handed, coffee cups are, wrist watches as well, telephone and calculator pads, gear shifts in standard transmissions, door knobs, guitars, computer mouse, all the things that right-handed people take for granted actually help a left-hander develop further, as long as they don't frustrate the hell out of them first!
Did you ever have to search for a really good baseball glove that fits on your right hand? Next time you are in a sporting goods store, notice the narrow selection.

When I began to golf, my dad gave me his old right-handed set of clubs (his opportunity to buy himself a new set) stating that, "Right-handed clubs will make a lefty a better golfer!" Why didn't he name me "Sue" as well?! I sucked at golf until I got a job and bought myself a left-handed set. Then, trying to learn to swing lefty was like trying to unlearn how to walk.
In Army basic training, there are many interesting things to learn, one of them being how to throw a live grenade left-handed. Grenades are made with the squeeze handle to fit under your right fingers, thus putting the pull-pin facing you and the body of the grenade cradled in your right palm. "Well, that ain't gonna work for you lefties," said the grenade training instructor. "You odd ducks are gonna have to hold the grenade upside down in your left hand! Why? Because we don't want you blowing your ass off or any one else's ass off, especially my ass in training because the squeeze handle was accidentally released in the palm of you left hand," he went on to explain. So, when it came time to toss some live grenades, didn't I get lucky and have to get into the foxhole with "Sergeant Grenade!" When he handed me my first grenade and I turned it upside down and placed it in my left hand, I saw terror in his eyes. "No, not another one!" Well, I still got my ass, so does everyone else have their ass, and so does the good Sergeant have his ass, from head to toe.

OK, so lefties in baseball...besides the advantages listed in the article above, what about this right-brained, left-handed stuff? Do lefties take more chances in the grand old game? Do they think that the few feet advantage at home plate leads them around the rest of the diamond? You bet! I always ran like I had a piano on my back but given the opportunity to take an extra base, somehow I was safe almost always! A few years ago at the Cleveland Indians Fantasy Camp, I was in a situation. I was standing on second base in need of oxygen because I had just hit a double. The next guy up hit a ball that bounced into short right field. As I headed to third base in what seemed to be an eternity, I had "going home" in my brain. Approaching third, my coach, Rick Waits hesitated and then waved me around (I was going anyway, Rick). As I approached home, the ball came in to the catcher just as I got within sliding distance. I don't know why I didn't slide, I love to slide, in fact, I am an excellent slider, but I didn't slide! As the tag was applied to my left leg, I did a stutter step and stomped on home plate with my right foot (remember that right-handed/footed world). "SAFE!" called the umpire! I was soooooo out! As I trotted back to the bench to the cheers of the crowd and the congrats of my team mates, my other coach, Jim "Mudcat" Grant said with his hand scratching his whiskers, "You know, we can teach a lot of things here, but one of them ain't speed!" I responded, "I was safe, wasn't I?" Mudcat said, "You were called safe!"
That night, the play was shown in slow motion over and over again in the dinner tent showing that I benefited from the call. Chock that run up to the lefty advantage!
When my lefty son played Pony League, he had a very low batting average for the first half of the season, thinking he could be a power-hitter. I talked him into bunting for the second half. Because he didn't inherit the piano on his back, he raised his average up over .500 for the season.
So it may be a right-handed world, you just gotta know how to take advantage...Play Ball!

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