The 14th annual National Lefty-Righty amateur golf tournament was about to begin, and the teams teeing off early—each consisting of a lefthander and his right-handed partner—were fanning out beneath the tall, skinny pines of the Myrtle Beach National Golf Club. Watching them, Ed Bullock, the club's silver-haired head pro. confided, "You can usually tell which of these guys are the lefthanders. When they walk, they tend to flap their hands."
It was tempting to trust Bullock in the matter, even though he happened to be a righthander himself. After all, the National Association of Left-handed Golfers, the 1,200-member organization that was sponsoring the Lefty-Righty tournament, had selected the same South Carolina club as site of its all-lefthander national championships the year before, meaning that the place had twice now been overrun by swarms of lefties. And this had given Bullock ample opportunity to observe the breed.
The trouble was, what he said about lefthanders was not being borne out. As they set off on their 18-hole rounds, the men passing before him were indistinguishable as to hand preference, just another group of golfers decked out in pastels and polyesters. There was not a telltale wrist movement anywhere to be seen. After a while Bullock turned and headed back for the clubhouse. He gave a small shrug.
"For some reason they're just not flapping today." he said.
January 24, 1977
To the estimated 90% of mankind that perform life's essential chores with the right hand, the other 10% have always been an accursed lot. Lefthanders come in all shapes and sizes, and their ranks have included such disparate figures as Michelangelo, Jack the Ripper and Jerry Ford—and they have been treated with uniform derision down through the ages. The Bible, for example, repeatedly equates left-handedness with evil while associating the right hand with truth and virtue. The English tongue is equally unkind, it being no linguistic accident that our words sinister and dexterity are derived from the Latin for left (sinister) and right (dexter), respectively.
Social scientists are hard on lefties, too, studies frequently citing them as being uncommonly disposed to alcoholism, crime and suicide. Lefthanders are also widely thought to be clumsy, although this could have something to do with the fact that many of the things they grapple with daily—doorknobs, zippers, subway turnstiles—seem deliberately designed to make life tough for them. The righthander is clearly favored in every way. You raise your right hand for such honorable purposes as taking an oath or voting but you are properly put off by left-handed compliments. No wonder that at the first hint of sinistrality in a youngster, elders in most cultures have cracked the offending left hand with a ruler or wrapped it in the nearest tobacco pouch.
Given all the wrongs they endure in daily life, it might seem cause for uncontrolled jubilation among lefthanders that they sometimes have a better time of it in sport. Lefties are different from righties, and this can give them advantages on the playing field much appreciated by sinistrals like Casey Stengel, who found a haven in baseball after running into trouble in his chosen profession of dentistry. As Casey told it, he was working on a patient in the Western Dental College in Kansas City, using tools made for righthanders, when an instructor burst in and cried in horror, "You're a lefthander, a lefthander!" Years later, after succeeding as a big-league outfielder and manager, Stengel felt secure enough to confess, "I was a left-handed dentist who made people cry."
But sport imposes on lefthanders its own hardships, including some refinements of those suffered generally. Forced conversions? Among the many natural lefthanders coaxed and cajoled into competing right-handed are Ben Hogan, Carmen Basilio and Ken Rosewall, each of whom might have fared even better had he been allowed to go his southpaw ways. Inhospitable equipment? Any left-handed outdoorsman will attest to how his made-for-righty shotgun never fails to eject its shells in his face. Stereotypes? Left-handed athletes, it is said, tilt their heads to the left. They put diabolical spins on the ball—any ball. They are injury prone. They are bowlegged. And, yes, they flap their wrists.
The most durable left-handed stereotype in sport has it that they are, to use a suitably hoary term, daffy. Ask tennis oldtimers about lefties and they will pass over less colorful southpaws like Jaroslav Drobny and Neale Fraser. Instead, they single out as "typical" the legendary Art Larsen. a lefthander of the 1950s remembered for superstitiously tapping opponents during matches (so insistently that Gardnar Mulloy once had to vault the net to get away) and for affecting bizarre getups (striding onto the court for a match wearing a shirt with the hanger still in it). And football people revel in relating the eccentricities of left-handed Quarterback Frankie Albert, conveniently ignoring that he was a fine passer. They will tell of the time that Albert was quarterbacking Stanford against Nebraska in the 1941 Rose Bowl and held up the game to watch an airplane fly by. Or of his curious habit, during his years with the San Francisco 49ers, of calling the same play seven or eight times in a row. Or the time that Albert, by now the club's coach, was visiting the home of 49er owner Lou Spadia and sneaked away to climb to the roof, whereupon he issued a bloodcurdling yell and leaped 20 feet into the swimming pool. It remains for Spadia to put all this into proper perspective. He says. "The crazy lefthander could have broken his head."
The notion of the lefthander as quintessential oddball has taken strongest hold in the game played and managed by ex-dentist Stengel. The place of lefthanders in baseball is evident in the nicknames created just for them, a lexicon that includes portsider, forkhander and, of course, southpaw, a term coined in the late 19th century in Chicago because pitchers in a local ball park faced the setting sun, meaning that their left arms were to the south. Breathe the word southpaw today and some oldtimers still think of the hard-drinking, hooky-playing Rube Waddell, whose plaque in the Hall of Fame identifies him as a "colorful left-handed pitcher." These fans would consider the adjective redundant.
But, revealingly, the most important generalization about lefthanders is one that people usually neglect to make—the possiblity that as a group they may be the best natural athletes. Everybody knows that Babe Ruth batted and threw left-handed but few seem to appreciate that lefties—just 10% of the population, remember—more recently have been achieving high stature in sport after sport. Bill Russell, once basketball's dominant figure, is left-handed and so is Iuliana Semenova, the 7-foot-plus Russian who was the leading woman player at the '76 Olympics. Running Back Gale Sayers, among the best ever at that position, is left-handed, and no current NFL quarterback is more proficient than lefthander Ken Stabler. Of the world's 10 best tennis players, no fewer than four—Jimmy Connors, Manuel Orantes, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner—are lefties.
The list goes on. West Indian Gary Sobers, cricket's greatest all-rounder, is left-handed. So is Bud Muehleisen, six-time international open singles racquetball champion. Likewise Steve Mizerak, arguably the biggest name in pocket billiards, and Earl Anthony and Patty Costello, the same among the world's bowlers. Young Greg Louganis, everybody's choice as diving's next superstar, is left-handed and so is sport's foremost transsexual, Renee Richards, Bill Hartack, Dave Cowens, Mark Spitz and Dorothy Hamill—lefthanders all. The world's greatest athlete? Montreal Olympic decathlon champion and world-record holder Bruce Jenner is a southpaw, naturally.
Give them anything like a fair shake, and those crazy, bowlegged, injury-prone and, yes, awkward lefthanders obviously do rather well. Of course, they get a far fairer shake in some areas than others.
"It happens all the time," says Ken Stabler. "A guy will come up to me in a bar or somewhere and say. 'Hey, Ken, I'm a lefthander, too.' And it means something to me. I don't care how obnoxious he might be. I think, hey, maybe he's not such a bad Joe. There's a bond there."
As Stabler's talk of a "bond" suggests, lefthanders are conscious of being a minority and an oppressed one at that. And while they have not taken to the streets in sinistral force, some of them have been known to joke about drafting a "bill of lefts," while others have been moved to wear T shirts inscribed LEFTHANDERS OF THE WORLD UNITE. It is in this spirit of unity that a Manhattan. Kans. beer distributor named Dean Campbell launched Lefthanders International, an organization that puts out a quarterly magazine and urges members to say "true" instead of "right." It may sound frivolous, but Campbell has struck a responsive chord in some 3,000 fellow lefties who pay $12 a year to belong to his organization.
Still, the meaningful breakthroughs are few. It is a positive development, for instance, that fewer children are called "Lefty" these days. Similarly, today's parents and teachers hesitate to make children "change hands." having been scared off by evidence that forced conversions can cause bedwetting, stuttering or other trauma.
Another sign of the times is the proliferation of emporiums around the U.S. like the Left Hand, primarily a mail-order concern on the 10th floor of a loft building on Manhattan's West Side that does a brisk business in objects designed for lefties, including corkscrews that turn to the left, a large selection of special scissors and instruction books for the southpaw embroiderer. "It makes me mad the way everything is designed for righthanders," says June Gittleson, the left-handed proprietress.
Scratch left-handed athletes and most will be found, like Gittleson, to harbor pet grievances. The Detroit Pistons' Bob Lanier is tired of bumping elbows with righthanders at the dinner table. The San Diego Padres' Randy Jones plaintively wishes that some waitress would—just once—put his drinking glass on the left. And Jimmy Connors tells of actually having to concentrate in order to discharge one of life's basic amenities. "When I'm shaking hands, sometimes I put my left hand out." he says. "It's tough for me to shake right-handed."
The burden of inhabiting a right-handed world prompts Philadelphia Phillie southpaw Tug McGraw to keep a mental checklist in which he divides objects between those that are "fair" to lefties (ladders, water glasses, diving boards) and those that are "prejudiced" (auto ignitions, dial phones). Another aggrieved lefty, Dallas Cowboy Defensive Tackle Larry Cole, waxes mildly militant over the fact that handwriting goes from left to right, dooming the southpaw to a smudged hand as he writes.
"We ought to be writing right to left." Cole says indignantly. "That's why lefties turn their arms around to the top to write—so they can pull the pen across the page. Well. I refuse to do it."
Often enough, the southpaw has a scarcely less vexing time of it in his own sport. There are some shotguns and bolt-action rifles that lefthanders can operate without making like contortionists, but these are usually available only on special order—and at a higher price. Most fishing reels, virtually all hunting mittens and most automobile tools are also made-for-righty. There are plenty of left-handed baseball gloves on the market, but problems occur here, too: Aunt Sarah can be counted on to give her sinistral nephew a right-handed glove for Christmas.
There is, in addition, the problem of instruction. Most how-to films and books are produced for you-know-who, forcing southpaws to translate every "right" into "left" and to stand in front of mirrors wearing perplexed expressions. Los Angeles Dodger Broadcaster Vin Scully, a lefthander, swore off golf books the way some people do cigarettes. "It drove me crazy trying to figure out what those books were talking about," he says. Group instruction is no better. Even when instructors bother to offer special help, the lefthander wishes they wouldn't; it only means the righthanders in class will glare at him for wasting their time.
Baltimore Wide Receiver Glenn Doughty recalls that when he was a running back at Michigan, Coach Bo Schembechler required him to line up in a right-handed stance for no apparent reason other than conformity. Doughty is free to assume his natural lefty stance with the Colts, but the NFL was not exactly quick to overcome its prejudice against sinistral quarterbacks, one that Frankie Albert was practically alone in defying a generation ago. One reason for the taboo was an understandable reluctance to entrust a team to somebody who could be counted on to be crazy. Another was the belief that a lefthander's spiral was hard to handle—assuming, of course, that he got the ball anywhere near the receiver.
Everything considered, it is not surprising that Stabler began his football career as a receiver. But his arm was so good that a Pee Wee coach finally relented and made him a quarterback. Stabler's stardom at Alabama and Oakland has helped spark a boomlet in southpaw quarterbacks, among them his Oakland understudy David Humm, Seattle's Jim Zorn, New Orleans' Bobby Douglass and Michigan's Rick Leach. Stabler insists, "If anything, being a lefty was a very slight advantage, at least at first, because you look different to the defense. And that's nonsense about the spirals. Biletnikoff and those guys are going to catch the ball no matter how it spirals."
For all the apparent enlightenment, Jim Del Gaizo is able to claim that Cincinnati Coach Paul Brown cut him in 1971 because "he couldn't take to the idea of a left-handed quarterback. He just belonged to the old school of NFL coaches." And it is significant that Stabler takes the ball from center with his right hand on top, exactly as a righty would. While he does not remember exactly who taught him ("It happened somewhere along the line"), it was presumably done to avoid mix-ups with right-handed centers. What makes this ironic is that Oakland Center Dave Dalby is a natural lefty who snaps the ball right-handed on everything but kicks, having been converted by his coaches at UCLA.
But football is a veritable Utopia for southpaws compared to golf, which is why there is a National Association of Left-handed Golfers staging tournaments like those in Myrtle Beach. Founded in the 1930s, the NALG is unhappy that Ben Hogan, Phil Rodgers and many other natural southpaws switched to right-hand play. It yearns in vain for the arrival of a "left-handed Nicklaus," but has come no closer so far than New Zealander Bob Charles, a PGA veteran whose brightest moment was when he won the 1963 British Open in a playoff against the turncoat Rodgers. So heady was the win that participants in an NALG tournament in California delivered sentimental speeches hailing Charles as "our champion."
One reason for "turning around" lefthanders is the longstanding unavailability of left-handed clubs. Thanks partly to NALG pressure on manufacturers, there is now a wider selection. Because club pros often are the ones selling the clubs, it is not surprising to find some of them increasingly disposed to let youngsters play left-handed. But other instructors still turn southpaws around in the genuine belief it will improve their game. They argue that golf courses the world over are laid out to favor righthanders and that the switchee will benefit from having his stronger side into the shot √† la Hogan.
Hogan himself, in his book Power Golf, denies that golf-course architecture necessarily favors righthanders and blames his boyhood conversion on misinformed friends who advised him that lefties never made good golfers. Says Hogan, "At that age I was gullible enough to believe them and to make the change, but I wouldn't now." At any rate, if it does help having one's strong side into the shot, why don't these same instructors switch natural righthanders to southpaws? As it happens, Bob Charles is the reverse of Hogan, a natural righty who took up the game left-handed simply because that was how both his parents played it.
Left-handed discus men have problems, too. They throw from circles usually laid out in such a way, says Bruce Jenner, that the wind "forces the lefthander's throw to dive. You might lose anywhere from five to 10 feet." The ultimate in discrimination, however, is to be found in polo, which has adopted a rule that will eventually outlaw left-handed play altogether. The ban, enacted by the U.S. Polo Association in 1973, was seen as a logical extension of the hallowed right-of-way rule that players meeting head on must carry the ball on the right side of the pony.
"It's a safety measure to avoid collisions," says John Oxley, a prime mover at the Boca Raton (Fla.) polo grounds. "There's nothing more sacred in polo than the right of way." Much the same thing could have been accomplished by ruling that players must carry the ball on the left side, but that might have logically led to the banning of righthanders. And things just don't happen that way.
It is true, of course, that lefties have been able to exploit the element of surprise in some sports. Among their victims have been:
•Those hockey players flattened by the Boston Bruins' Wayne Cashman, a lefthander and accomplished NHL brawler, who says, "The key to a hockey fight is the first punch. When you're a lefty and they're looking for the right hand it helps."
•Dolph Schayes, who toward the end of his NBA career had a lot of trouble guarding a young Bill Russell. Not until Russell's third season, as the Boston Celtic star finished shooting a free throw, did Schayes sidle up to him and say in honest surprise, "Damn, Bill, I didn't know you were left-handed."
•A husky bartender in Wellsville, Utah, who was beaten in arm wrestling by Dick Motta, a little fellow who would go on to become an NBA coach. Motta had his right arm in a sling, and the bartender, not suspecting he was up against a southpaw, charitably agreed to wrestle left-handed. "Needless to say, I killed him," recalls Motta.
•The many trout reeled in by Lefty (Bernard) Kreh, outdoors editor for the Baltimore Sun. "If you go up a stream, righthanders are all casting the same way," he says. "Lefties cast into places the other guys don't fish."
Even without surprising anybody, southpaw fencers are so hard to handle that they make up perhaps one-fourth of the sport's top performers, including some—and this is a switch in every sense—who convert to southpaw. The main impetus for the practice seems to have come from Guiseppe Mangiarotti, an Italian fencing master of the 1920s who had two sons and a daughter, all righthanders. He trained the daughter and son Edoardo as lefties—and Edoardo went on to become one of the most accomplished swordsmen in fencing history.
Southpaws who play tennis enjoy an advantage that the best of them, Connors, unblinkingly reckons at "about 5%." Befuddled opponents generally agree that southpaws put more spin on their serves and in general play a wristier game. The lefty is further helped by the fact that crucial points are served in ad court, when he is serving to the righty's backhand. And if the righthander is serving, it is to the lefty's forehand, presumably his strength.
All of which is a source of melancholy to Rosewall, who as a young boy in Australia was taught by his father to play right-handed even though he wrote and threw a ball lefty. The throwing motion being virtually the same as the serve, it is no surprise that the latter became Rosewall's chief weakness. "In those days there was a tendency to force kids to use the right hand," he says wistfully. "I've often wondered if my serve would have been better had I played left-handed." In that event, perhaps his splendid backhand might have suffered.
In basketball, the lefthander theoretically has no better than a mixed time of it, because on offense he is apt to be dribbling with his strong hand opposite the defender's right hand. But opponents swear that southpaws are given to sleight of hand; Coach Motta notes that, for whatever reason, some of the NBA's best alltime playmakers, Guy Rodgers, Lenny Wilkens and Nate Archibald, have been lefties. And on defense, everything works to the lefty's advantage. Another coach with a personal interest in these things, Maryland's Lefty (Charles) Driesell, notes of Russell, "When he was blocking a shot, he went up with his left hand and was automatically on the side the righthander was shooting from." Russell, of course, was celebrated as the game's greatest shot blocker.
Lefthanders may enjoy such advantages that they sometimes create new hardships for themselves. It happens in the prize ring, where everybody complains about the difficulty of "solving" southpaws. The result is that lefthanders experience heartwarming successes in the amateur ranks but have trouble getting fights as pros. Confronted by what amounts to a freeze-out, their managers usually turn southpaws around, which is how Basilio came to be a right-handed world champion—a two-fisted one, to be sure—as both a welterweight and a middleweight. Few pure, unreclaimed southpaws have ever won world titles, none the heavyweight crown.
It is against overwhelming odds, then, that Tyrone Everett, a wispy, cherub-faced southpaw from Philadelphia, has moved near the top of world junior lightweight rankings. "We knew we were taking a chance," says Trainer Jimmy Arthur, referring to his refusal to turn Everett around. "But we figured Tyrone was so young-looking, people would think they could beat him." At that, the fast, hard-punching Everett has had to scramble to get fights, journeying to San Francisco, Honolulu and Caracas to take on hometown favorites, and has repeatedly had to accept the short end of the purse. Despite this, Everett won 34 straight before losing a highly controversial decision to WBC champion Alfredo Escalera in a November title match.
Lefthanders in boxing are shunned even by one another. It is an antipathy that Everett himself expressed one afternoon before a workout in Philadelphia's Juniper Street gym. "The problem is you don't see other southpaws much and they look funny," he said. "You see that left hand coming around at you and you can't get away in time. It just looks strange."
Everett was not speaking hypothetically. The only time he was ever knocked down was in a bout with Mexico's Luis Madrid (whom he later kayoed). At the time Madrid was fighting from a southpaw stance.
Platooning. Pinch-hitting. Late-inning relievers. Switch hitters. The player who can be said to set baseball's endless lefty-righty machinations in motion is the left-handed batter, known familiarly as BL. He benefits from the fact that the majority of pitchers are righthanders; their natural curve deliveries come in to him but tail away from right-handed batters. He also has that step and a half head start to first base. The fact that many of the old ball parks had cozy right-field walls enhanced the careers of Ruth, Speaker and Gehrig, all left-handed. And that explains why many left-handed batters—Cobb was one—are not true southpaws at all, but natural righties whose dads simply loved them enough to make them BL.
Baseball's true lefthanders, the ones deserving of the designation southpaw, are those who throw lefty, pitchers in particular. The southpaw pitcher benefits from unorthodoxy against everybody and, because his pitches appear to arrive from the first-base dugout, he is especially effective against those dreaded left-handed batters. His ability to "neutralize" BL makes a good left-handed pitcher found gold.
The left-handed pitcher's unorthodoxy also makes him the subject of slurs and slander. Southpaws, it is claimed, are congenitally unable to throw overhand but are given instead to sneaky sidearm deliveries. They are said to be "cute" and "cunning" and endowed with a lot of "stuff." The legendary John McGraw purportedly cracked that if you split open a southpaw's head, all that would fall out would be bases on balls.
While pitchers clearly get most of the unflattering attention, there is also room for miscellaneous lefthanders like Outfielder Babe Herman, who caught fly balls with his head, doubled into a double play, etc. And there is a certain undeniable thoroughness in the fact that baseball effectively bans lefthanders from no fewer than four positions, accepting as gospel that they are simply unequipped to play them.
In the case of catcher, one of the forbidden positions, the anti-lefty arguments vary suspiciously, but the chief one seems to be that the southpaw's throw to second would be impeded when right-handed batters are at the plate—and, well, aren't the majority of batters right-handed? Yet it would logically follow that a left-handed catcher might come in handy now and then when a left-handed batter is up. One might as well forget it. A left-handed catcher named Jack Clements logged 17 years in the majors in the late 19th century, but there has been none since 1958, when Dale Long inconclusively worked two games behind the plate for the Chicago Cubs.
The other proscribed positions are second base, third base and shortstop, leaving first the only spot in the infield where sinistrals are welcome. The chief argument is that lefthanders have to pivot the wrong way to make the throw to first. Yet lefthanders Willie Keeler and George Sisler played some games at third base on their way to the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. Ex-big-league First Baseman Frank Torre, a lefty now playing shortstop for a Rawlings softball team in St. Louis, firmly believes that lefthanders can handle that position, too.
Could it be that southpaws really are daffy? And that they are better athletes? There is a limit to what researchers in laterality, the field of hand preference, really know about their subject. They are sure that handedness has something to do with heredity. And they know that sinistrals and dextrals do have certain more or less significant differences.
These mostly involve cerebral organization. In what amounts to cross wiring, the right side of the body is usually controlled by the brain's left hemisphere, which handles verbal tasks like speech and writing. The body's left side is generally governed by the right hemisphere, which is endowed with power of visual and spatial perception. One would think, and some of the researchers do, that the resulting tendency would be for righthanders to be analytical and practical and for southpaws to be free-spirited, creative and illogical.
But difficulties arise when you start carrying any of this too far, as witness the various studies suggesting that lefthanders are more given to alcoholism, suicide, dyslexia and the rest. Curtis Hardyck, professor of educational psychology at the University of California, has plowed through more than 200 such studies and found a tendency toward bias and inadequate sampling. "Most of the evidence just doesn't stand up," Hardyck says. "There's a tendency to overinterpret results, a feeling that lefthanders, because they're different from the majority, are somehow wrong. The fact that da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin were left-handed...is overlooked."
The same thing happens in sport, whose cherished stereotypes necessarily ignore as inconvenient the bland lefthanders like Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax and Rod Laver—or eccentric righties like Jimmy Piersall, Mark Fidrych and Ilie Nastase. We may chuckle at the fact that newly acquired Montreal southpaw Will McEnaney sometimes walked an imaginary dog outside the clubhouse when he was with Indianapolis. But what about the reaction of his manager, Vern Rapp, recently hired to pilot the St. Louis Cardinals? He once shouted in exasperation, "McEnaney, get that damned dog inside." Rapp is right-handed.
Much of the left-handed lore surely is nurtured by the southpaws themselves. Few of them have ever been more genuinely zany than onetime Yankee Pitcher Lefty (Vernon) Gomez, who was nicknamed Goofy after making known his intentions of constructing a "fish saver," a revolving goldfish bowl that would spare occupants the need to swim. But the shrewd Gomez was also a box office attraction, and he goes on cultivating his role as a fun-loving southpaw even today. Now a popular after-dinner speaker, he delights in regaling audiences with stories of how his high-spirited Chihuahua, Taco, is a lefty, too. How does he know? Deadpans Gomez, "When he goes to the fireplug, he raises his left leg."
There are other reasons for quirkiness among left-handed pitchers. Because they are in demand, lefties often get away with things that might get righthanders in hot water, and this includes wildness both on the mound and off. St. Louis Cardinal Reliever Al Hrabosky allows that he was so unpromising a prospect that he would never have been offered a contract if he were a righthander. "But I was a lefty so they took a chance," he says. Of his own deportment, which includes stomping around on the mound and casting baleful glances toward home plate, Hrabosky says, "I want the batter to think I'm crazy. I want him to know I'm crazy."
The fact that athletes are somewhat freer these days to ply their craft as southpaws no doubt accounts for much of the new lefty surge in sport.
"There is reason to believe that lefthanders are better athletes," says University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Ruben Gur, who specializes in laterality. "Left-handedness can result in different ways. In some lefthanders, the spatial functioning appears to dominate, giving them better spatial perception and perhaps quicker reflexes. Lefthanders as a group also tend to be more ambidextrous. In part it's because their brain organization tends to be more bilateral than righthanders'. But it may also be because of social adaptation. The lefthander in society is forced to use both hands."
And now consider how lefthanders have persisted on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, which woke up a few years ago and discovered that some 30% of its leading prize winners were southpaws. There was good reason for it. When PBA officials arrived at a tournament site, they determined that the right side of each lane, having received more of the action, was often worn and rutted, causing difficulties for the right-handed pros. Bowling on smoother surfaces—finding their "grooves" easier—southpaws flourished. Amid threats of a boycott by righthanders, an alarmed PBA got out the lacquer and oil and began doing a better job of "equalizing" conditions. A lot of southpaws began disappearing, but not all. Today lefthanders still make up 14% of the top bowlers, and one of them. Earl Anthony, in 1975 became the first bowler to win $100,000. It was his third straight year as the PBA's No. 1 prize winner.
Anthony is a quiet ex-grocery clerk from Tacoma. He says, "Conditions on the tour used to be unfair to righthanders. We lefthanders could stand and bowl from the same place while righthanders always had to move around to change the speeds and angles on the ball. When the PBA decided to act, I was able to cope. I always studied righthanders and I adjusted. Bowling is a game of adjustment and that's easier for lefthanders anyway. Heck, in life that's all we do."
The winners of the Lefty-Righty championship in Myrtle Beach were Duane Streets, an insuranceman, and Morris Masten, a schoolteacher, both from Indianapolis. They shot a best-ball score of 277 to whip 90 other teams in the 72-hole competition. Streets was the lefthander. Masten was the other one.
An Offhand Look at More Lefties
•Dwight F. Davis, founder of the Davis Cup, was left-handed.
•Of the top 30 major league hitters this past season, 17 batted left-handed and one, Pete Rose, was a switch hitter; 39 of the 82 batters in the Hall of Fame batted lefty, four were switch hitters, and 11 of the 39 pitchers threw lefty.
•The most sinistral NBA team used to be the New York Knicks of the late '60s. The Knicks' roster included six lefties: Willis Reed, Dick Barnett, Howie Komives, Don May, Mike Riordan and Phil Jackson. Not to forget Walt Frazier, a righty who occasionally passed left-handed as a high school quarterback in Atlanta. The most lefty team in the NBA currently is the Nets, featuring six southpaws on a 12-man roster: Nate Archibald, Al Skinner, Dave Wohl, Kim Hughes, Tim Bassett and Bubbles Hawkins.
•Baltimore Oriole Pitcher Mike Cuellar always insists on being warmed up by another southpaw, so Coach Jim Frey owns a left-handed catcher's mitt for this purpose. Pete LaCock, a left-handed Chicago Cub outfielder, also owns one, using it in the bullpen when he is not playing. Southpaw Sandy Koufax sometimes played behind the plate in the Brooklyn sandlots. He used a righthander's mitt turned inside out.
•On the subject of lefthanders, Al Schacht, erstwhile right-handed pitcher, restaurateur and Clown Prince of Baseball, said, "They throw crooked, they walk crooked and they think crooked. They even wear their clothes crooked. You have to figure that they're a little crazy."
•Miami Dolphin Placekicker Garo Yepremian is left-footed, but when he passes—which he has done, memorably, just once so far—it is with his right hand.
•Casey Stengel, a southpaw, observed, "Lefthanders have more enthusiasm for life. They sleep on the wrong side of the bed and their head gets more stagnant on that side."
•The Kingsport (Tenn.) Braves, an Atlanta farm team in the Appalachian League, last season unveiled Audrey Scruggs, a 19-year-old with a good curve—with either hand. When switch pitcher Scruggs faced switch hitter Dan Spain of the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins there was a three-minute minuet during which Scruggs kept changing hands and Spain kept jumping back and forth across the plate, each seeking a tactical advantage. The umpire finally ordered Spain to commit himself, and he chose to bat right-handed. Scruggs, throwing righty, retired him on an infield grounder.
•One study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that a southpaw can usually stretch the fingers on his right hand farther apart than those on his left. A righthander can generally stretch the fingers on his left hand farther apart.
•One theory for the prevalence of right-handedness today is that ancient warriors took to using the left hand for holding the shield over the heart, leaving the right hand to wield the spear. But then, it has also been argued that righthanders have always been greater in number. Something to do with the earth's rotation.
•Detroit Piston southpaw Bob Lanier fractured his left wrist as a boy and. throwing right-handed, tossed a football through a rubber tire 20 consecutive times at a bazaar. He won a turkey. Righty Johnny Miller has broken 75 playing golf left-handed. Like all major league third basemen, Baltimore's Brooks Robinson throws right-handed, yet he writes, plays tennis and drives a nail lefty. He says, "I'm sure it helped my fielding because that's the hand you've got the glove on."
•Babe Ruth wrote right-handed.