Baseball continues to discriminate against lefthanders
With another baseball season about to begin, I thought I’d share with you an essay of mine that appeared in the New York Times in 1998, explaining how baseball could modify the rule that effectively bars lefthanders from half of the everyday positions. My solution allows those lefties whose body frame and athletic attributes make them naturals for second base, shortstop, third base or catcher to garner their fair share of jobs at those posts.
Alas, I discovered that the influence of the Times — or at least its sports section — was far less than I had imagined. The anticipated groundswell never materialized. As for the title “Really Radical Realignment,” that’s a play on the term “radical realignment,” which referred to contemporaneous proposals to move various teams to new divisions or from the American or National League.
New York Times
March 29, 1998
Really Radical Realignment
A Lefty Demands That First Base Be Switched With Third
By Dennis Hans
You want “radical realignment”? Put first base down the left field line.
We lefties are 15 percent of the population, and we’re sick and tired of living in your world.
We don’t like driving on your side of the road. We’re not amused when your scissors and can openers don’t work. We don’t appreciate the crippling arthritis we develop writing from left to right — writing your way.
Most of all, we don’t enjoy watching you play second base, shortstop, third base and catcher.
Four positions. Half of the everyday jobs in baseball. Excluded. Locked out. Left out.
The so-called “national pastime” tells us, “Go home, Lefty. Buy an outfielder’s glove and maybe we’ll talk. Got a great arm? Then maybe we’ll hire you to strike out a lefty slugger with the game on the line. (Lord knows our righties can’t.) We don’t care if you’ve got Ozzie-like skills, there’s no room at the in(field).”
Physics is the surface explanation for our plight, discrimination the deep-rooted one. First, the physics.
Only a righty second baseman can turn a double play in one fluid motion. Only a righty shortstop can range deep in the hole, backhand a ground ball, plant and fire to first. Only a righty third baseman can charge down the line, barehand a bunt and sling it to first on the dead run. Lefties, on the other hand, must go through time-consuming 180-degree turns to complete these routine plays. Their throws reach first too late to nab the runner. From behind the plate, a lefty catcher’s throws to second tail away from the advancing base stealer.
Managers should pass us by, because a so-so righty at any of these positions is more effective than a superbly skilled lefty.
Now for the discrimination. Where is it written in stone that baseball can only be played with first base down the right field line and the bases run exclusively in a counterclockwise direction? A cavalier decision 151 years ago by the fallible humans of the Knickerbocker Club should not be confused with a writ from on high. The placement of first base could just have easily been down the left field line, left to the discretion of the home team or, as I shall advocate, left to the discretion of the defensive team.
Two hundred years ago, Americans amended the Constitution to guarantee freedom of assembly. Surely we can amend baseball’s constitution to extend that right to the infield diamond: “freedom to assemble regardless of handedness.”
Ask yourself these questions (I’ll provide the answers):
Q. Would righty infielders have the advantage if first base were down the left field line?
A. No. All the advantages they presently hold would fall to the lefties; we would prevail at 2B, SS, 3B and C.
Q. Would baseball be different in any significant way if the bases were run in a clockwise direction?
A. No. Still three strikes and you’re out, three outs in an inning, a tie goes to the runner, and so on.
Q. Wouldn’t it be simple — and fair — to let the team in the field dictate the direction its opponent runs the bases?
Q. If this were the case, how would a team decide whether to play Lefty Defense?
A. By putting its players through infielding drills. If the team has an abundance of slick-picking southpaws, it would play Lefty Defense.
The transition period may be bumpy, but within a few years about 15 percent of teams will have converted to Lefty Defense. Those teams will recruit lefty infielders exclusively, just as the other 85 percent of teams will recruit only righty infielders. Of course, the pitching staff and other position players will be a mixture of lefties and righties on both types of teams. A Lefty Defense squad might well have an all-righty outfield and a predominately righty staff. Not a thing wrong with that.
Q. Can we really expect players to make the physical and mental switch to clockwise running when they face Lefty Defense?
A. Please, you’re insulting the intelligence of baseballers. Are football players confused after the quarter break, when they change ends? Do basketball players freak out at the start of the third quarter when they fastbreak toward the very goal they were defending in the second quarter? The football and basketball players change direction during games; baseballers will know before the game starts the direction they’ll run for the entire game. The batter facing Lefty Defense will receive signs from his third base coach down the right field line. He’ll note the first baseman’s glove on the lanky dude standing 100 feet from the plate down the left field line. Switching back and forth will soon be second nature; and kids, of course, will grow up running both ways.
We’re willing to forgive the 150 years of pain and suffering baseball has inflicted on us if baseball is willing to accept and promote Lefty Defense. If baseball drags its feet, we’ll take our struggle to the streets and the courts — protests in the former and multi-billion-dollar class-action suits in the latter. One way or the other, baseball will become an inclusive national pastime. We won’t be left out.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.