Lefthanders Demand Equal Play in Baseball

Dear President Clinton:

Greetings, fellow lefthander. As you know, our people have struggled valiantly for centuries against authority figures who forced us to perform such unnatural acts as eating, throwing and writing with our wrong hand. Though we have overcome most of our tormentors, we have one formidable foe to go: Major League Baseball, which excludes lefthanders from four of the nine positions on the field.

As you know, many lefties possess the talent and determination to shine on the diamond at second base, shortstop, third base or catcher. Alas, we never get to perform at our natural positions on baseball's ultimate stage. Booted from our best spots to first base, the pitcher's mound or the outfield ghetto before we reach the age of ten, most of our careers come to an early end. Only a magical few will make it to the majors at their second or third best position.

No other sport treats us so shabbily. In basketball, we dazzle on the perimeter and in the paint. In hockey, we skate end to end and defend in goal. In football, we're granted the run of the gridiron. But we're pigeonholed by the national pastime.

Physics is the surface explanation for our plight: Lefties at second, short and third, when fielding grounders hit to their right, must pivot 180 degrees before firing to first, giving the baserunner the extra step or two that often marks the difference between safe and out. Lefty catchers' throws to second tail away from incoming base stealers, and right-handed batters obstruct their pegs to third. Thus an adequate righty is more effective at these four spots than an extraordinary lefty.

But if the bases are run in a clockwise direction (first base down the leftfield line, third base down the right) all the advantages righty fielders hold fall to lefties. And therein lies the discrimination. Where is it written in stone that the bases can be run only counterclockwise? A cavalier decision 151 years ago by the fallible gents of the Knickerbocker Club should not be confused with a writ from on high.

We lefties do not demand that the bases be run clockwise all the time. Imposing on righties the same discrimination we've endured for 152 years is not the answer. A level playing field is. As portsiders are 14 percent of the population, we seek the conversion of 14 percent of teams (one in seven) at every level of competition to "Lefty Defense."

Lefty Defense deploys lefties exclusively at second, short, third and catcher (and a mix of lefties and righties at the other posts); opponents run the bases clockwise. Thus, a traditional team batting against a Lefty Defense team sprints to first base down the leftfield line. Every other aspect of the game remains the same. When that traditional team takes the field, it defends as it always has, with first base down the rightfield line and its foes scooting in the customary counterclockwise direction. At the major league level, a traditional team would play traditional defense 162 games a year and on through the playoffs, just as a Lefty Defense team would defend lefty-style every single game. A simple, just solution.

Mr. President, as a lanky first baseman-type, you have not personally felt the discriminatory sting of fellow lefties with the squat, lumpy frame of a catcher or the sure hands and angularity of a shortstop. But you have the gift of empathy, and I urge you to squeeze your feet into their cleats.

You'll discover that the positions from which we're excluded are the most challenging and exhilarating in baseball. For 152 years lefties have been deprived of turning two as a berserk baserunner bears down; of ranging deep in the hole to backhand a worm-burner, planting and firing to first just in time; of spearing a liner in self-defense or barehanding a bunt on the dead run and submarining a strike in the same motion; of gunning down a base thief to snuff out a rally or calling every pitch of a perfect game. This is mental, physical and emotional deprivation on a grand scale, and it must end.

Mr. President, seize the mantle of First Lefty. Remind the citizenry that our forefathers amended the Constitution 209 years ago to guarantee the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Call on Major League Baseball to amend its constitution to guarantee what should be every American's right by birth: "freedom of assembly on the infield diamond, regardless of handedness."


Dennis Hans

Dennis Hans is president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Lefthanders, an occasional adjunct professor of American foreign policy and mass communications at the University of South Florida. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.


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