Left Handed People have a Faster Track to Major League Sports

left handed

Yesterday’s blog on my pride about being left handed energized me, so I had to do a second post on the topic. But it’s Sports Wednesday today, so how could I connect the two? I turned on the Cubs-Dodgers playoff baseball game last night, and as I watched the Cubs first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, make a play, it occurred to me. If you want a faster track to the most elite level of many professional sports, you just need to be left handed.

You see, Anthony Rizzo is left handed. So is the Blue Jays first baseman, Justin Smoak. In fact, one-third of first basemen in Major League Baseball are left handed. Remember, we only represent 10 percent of the population.

And the real gems in all of baseball are the southpaws, or left handed pitchers. I am not going to go into the technical details of facing a left or right handed batter and the various pitches that a lefty or righty may specialize in. I am just going to do some basic math.

As I have discussed already, only 10% of the population is left handed, but every baseball team desires a few lefties, on their pitching staff, often at first base and other positions on the team. So a left handed person simply has less competition amongst the general population to make such team. My son, Matthew, often comments on this, and he is dumb-founded that his two left handed parents couldn’t have made him a lefty.  My baseball-loving son tells me he is determined to make the major leagues one day, and he feels it will be harder because he is right handed.

Oh, for fun, here is a list of just some of the greatest baseball players of all time, who all just happen to be left handed:

Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Reggie Jackson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn,  and Ty Cobb, 

I came across a fabulous British website, called Anything Left Handed, that was a gold mine of details about the advantages of being left handed in sports, in particular fencing, tennis, boxing and cricket (remember this is a UK-based website!). Here is one paragraph that particularly intrigued me:

The “leftie advantage” seems to emerge in sports demanding rapid reactions and good spatial judgement. In fencing for example 7 of the 16 top world fencers are left-handed, and so are 5 of the top 25 international tennis players and 4 of Europe’s ten best table tennis payers. In boxing, squash and cricket left-handers also enjoy more than average success. Among the scientists who have studied left-handedness in sport one in particular, a French neuroscientist named Guy Azemar, investigated the proportion of left-handers in world-class championships over several years. He reported that about a third of elite fencers are left-handed. One fencing great was the Italian Edoardo Mangiarotti who won a total of 13 fencing medals. Mangiarotti was naturally right-handed but was forced by his father to fence with his left hand as it was thought to be an advantage.” 

The left handed advantage is not just some crack pot theory of mine – there is scientific evidence backing me up!

I found some thoughts about left handedness and basketball on THIS website, where it states, “In basketball, left-handedness has a meaningful effect on the game itself, but it also mostly manifests itself aesthetically. Something about a left-handed jump shot seems beautiful, perhaps just because we don’t see it as often.”

Some of the most memorable lefties in basketball include Bill Russell, Toni Kukoc, Lamar Odom, Isaiah Thomas, CJ Miles, Nick Van Exel, among others.

In hockey, a left handed slap shot really is a beautiful thing. Some left handed hockey greats include Cam Neely, Phil Esposito, Roman Turek, Terry Sawchuk and Tom Barrasso. But I have also now learned, from an interesting New York Times article, that as many as 60% of Canadian hockey players shoot left handed, no matter which is that person’s dominant hand. Maybe they just know that left is best.

Maybe after two straight days of reading my musings you all now know that left IS best.

Being Left Handed is not Sinister

left handed

My high school had an annual speech writing – and presenting competition. It was not optional. Each year each student had to choose a topic (any topic), write a speech, then perform it in front of his or her English class. The top two speeches in each class (as chosen by fellow students) performed said speeches in front of the whole school. The best speech I have ever written, and presented, was in front of my grade 10 English class. The topic: why life is best when you are left handed.

Yes, I am left handed and proud of that distinction. I come from a long line of left handed people and have always been surrounded by them. My grade eleven biology teacher even called my family a genetics miracle when she learned my parents are both right handed while my brother, sister and I are all left handed. I have a grandmother who was left handed (though was forced to write with her right hand), so is my uncle, so was my great-grandfather and piles of cousins. My husband, David, is even left handed. Somehow, we managed to produce at least two right handed children (Nessa’s fate is as yet unknown as she prefers to eat a crayon and toss a fork across the room and not actually show me which hand she prefers).

So back to that grade ten speech about why life is best when you are left handed. I did quite a bit of research for this speech, and I mean real research, as this was the spring of 1992, before kids went to Google to do their homework. I interviewed people and read books and even checked out a store in downtown Toronto that specialized in products for left handed people. One of my most cherished possessions to this day are my left-handed scissors. Try to use these babies to cut a piece of paper with your right hand – you are out of luck.

I remember that I learned that left handed people tend to be more creative, often more musical (though I dispute that with some lefties I know) and are usually more outside the box thinkers. I also recall that there is hard evidence that left handed people are better at reading backwards, and upside down. Now that’s a useful skill.

And here is a cool fact about the significant number of left handed U.S. Presidents. I found this paragraph here:

“What is perhaps most noteworthy about left-handed presidents is how many there have been in recent decades. Of the last 15 presidents, seven (about 47%) have been left-handed. That might not mean much until you consider that the global percentage of left-handed people is about 10%. So, among the general population, only 1 in 10 people are left handed, while in the modern-era White House, almost 1 in 2 have been left-handed.”

Do you know which are the seven?

I remember some other key facts about the better hand. For example, if you are reading this on your computer (or even on your phone just click on your keyboard), what letters do you type most? S? R? T? E? A? The letters on the left side of the keyboard are more commonly typed than the right. For those of us who live in a metric country (like Canada), go check out your measuring cup. Do you need to measure 125 ml of liquid or 250 ml? Made for a lefty. And clearly the British were on the right path with what is known internationally as “left hand drive.” The gear shift, and the cup holders, are accessed with the left hand.

Okay, so all of you righties reading this (which is most of you seeing that 90% of the world’s population is right handed) are thinking…. Hmmm… that’s a lot of useless crap she is talking about. You are correct. The fact is, life can often be challenging as a lefty. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we are discriminated against, but I feel that I am living in a right handed world that is often insensitive to my left handed needs.

I remember once walking into an exam in university and discovered only right handed desks. There was no way I was going to sit for three hours bent over sideways to write my exam. I demanded a left handed desk or basic table and got what I wanted. I need to use my right hand with a standard can opener. My hand is always covered in smudged ink when I write as English just had to be written left to right (I much prefer Hebrew, which is written the other way – clearly Hebrew was developed by a bunch of lefties). It took me years to figure out how to play tennis, and it was only in university when my intelligent tennis instructor showed me how to properly grip, serve and hit the ball with my left hand.

left handed
Can you find a left handed desk?

I still play hockey right handed, because I was told, “that’s how you hold a stick,” when I was a child. I do own a left handed baseball glove, and my son is proud that his Mom is a switch hitter (again, I was told how to bat, but I defied them all and hit from both sides!).

Check out the definition of the word “sinister” at Dictionary.com. It gives a list of explanations, including “threatening or portending evil, harm or trouble; ominous; bad; evil; wicked; unfortunate; disastrous; unfavourable; of or on the left side; left…” Sinister, or sinistra, is the Latin word for left handed. Really? Am I evil or is it unfortunate to know me? I think not.

You may be wondering, if her grade 10 speech was so good, did she win? Was she chosen by her classmates to present this brilliant speech in front of the whole school? The answer – no. Why? They told me they simply could not select a lefty, or at least a lefty who boasts about why life is best as a left handed person. I’m still bitter.