Wednesday August 11th, 2010

For the 90 percent of us who do things the right way, it has probably escaped our attention that, for the last 34 years, Aug. 13 has been designated International Left-Handers Day. As a minority that has historically been 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 last forever.

Well, so can some southpaw starters. I spoke to Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager, reknowned for his command of statistics, and he told me it was absolutely true, the A's' figures showed 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 portsiders have the edge. The left-handers' propaganda -- I was going to say propaganda arm -- but let's say propaganda lobby -- argue that southpaws succeed in sports because they're more influenced by the right side of the brain, which influences 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.

Right-handers also say that left-handers in sport, like blondes in sitcoms, are goofy. Sylvester Stallone's Rocky was a southpaw, remember? Of course, he was goofy.

GALLERY: Famous lefties in sports

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 history. Now Nadal is No. 1 himself, like Laver and Connors and McEnroe and Navratilova and Seles, all who beat right-handers with that confounding different spin. Bill Russell, the great Celtic center, told me that the main reason why he was the greatest shot-blocker in basketball history was simply because his dominant left arm perfectly countered a right-hander's natural shot.

Left-handers aren't so valuable in sports like football, where one-on-one isn't so pronounced. And soccer? Who ever heard of a southhoof? Except primarily for Phil Mickelson, left-handed golfers have always been oddities, but never bowl a lefty for money. It has something arcane to do with the way the lanes are oiled.

So, why have left-handers managed to survive evolution, in a right-handed world? Well, even some animals are supposed to be lefties. Polar bears, for example. Who knew? But it's probably because of athletics that left-handed human beings 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.

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