April 17, 2012

The Forgotten Minority

From my new Taki's Magazine column:
Baseball season reminds us of the identity-politics group that doesn’t bark—left-handers. Why are certain aggregations of once-persecuted people, such as blacks or gays, so politically potent today, while others, such as left-handers, can be safely ignored? 
Indeed, it’s almost gauche to ask why no left-handed big-leaguer has played catcher since the 1980s. ... Why is the media so much more fanatical about discrimination against black quarterbacks than against left-handed catchers?

Read the whole thing there.

Lefthanded catchers are like black quarterbacks in that both lefthanders in MLB and blacks in the NFL are highly over-represented, but not at certain positions. The purported shortfall of blacks at quarterback has been a media cause celebre for a generation, while the utter extinction of lefthanders at catcher is the subject of an occasional speculative essay in the nerdier realms of baseball fandom attempting to understand why.

By the way, I'm not lefthanded, nor is anybody particularly close to me.

Odd fact: Obama is the first of the four recent lefthanded Presidents (assuming Reagan was a righthander -- he started as a child as a lefthander) to play golf lefthanded. Ford, Bush 1, and Clinton played with righthanded clubs, while Obama uses a lefthanded set. 

56 comments:

Auntie Analogue said...

Stay tuned! - because coming up next...we join voices in a chorus of Randy Newman's "Short People"!

Truth said...

it seems like there's been one legitimate left-handed catcher in baseball history.

"

Being left-handed in baseball, except in rare cases, means exclusion from the position of catcher. This is due in large part to the game's counterclockwise flow. There have only been 30 left-handed throwing players who caught in at least 1 defensive inning. If you exclude the seven men who only caught in a single game, then you're talking about just 23 players. If you count only those guys who caught 100 or more games in a career, you're down to exactly five left-handed throwing catchers. However, if you're only counting career catchers (minimum of 800 games caught), then you have exactly one and that is Jack Clements."

http://bb_catchers.tripod.com/catchers/catchleft.htm

bjdubbs said...

southpaws

Gerald Ford (1913- ) 38th
Ronald Reagan (1911 - ) 40th
George H.W. Bush (1924- ) 41st
Bill Clinton (1946- ) 42nd
Barack Obama (1961- ) 44th

Auntie Analogue said...

Okay, to give lefties a shot at playing second base and shortstop - maybe even to give lefty catchers more opportunity, why not alternate the direction of base-running from one game to the next? Play one game the way it's now played, play the next game with the bases reversed, so that first base is where third base was, so that runners run the bases in the direction opposite to which in every game they've always run, run to first base down the left field line, run home from third down the right field line. Wouldn't THAT open up a zillion new baseball strategy options and player opportunities, and throw a real curve ball into the hallowed realm of baseball statistic-keeping-&-quoting!

Orthodox said...

Does it matter (or do people think it matters) where the batter stands?

j mct said...

Left handers cannot throw to third without turning their bodies about 180 degrees before the throw. They'd get stolen on a lot. It's the same problem a left hander would have playing an infield position that wasn't 1rst base.

Anonymous said...

When I was a child in the fifties it seems that most of the starting first basemen in MLB were lefties. Am I wrong?

Steve Sailer said...

And righthanded catchers can't throw to first without doing the same thing. I don't know what's more important for a catcher: throwing to third or first.

Anonymous said...

Gerald Ford (1913- ) 38th
Ronald Reagan (1911 - ) 40th
George H.W. Bush (1924- ) 41st
Bill Clinton (1946- ) 42nd
Barack Obama (1961- ) 44th

**********************************

Are lefties more ambitious? More conniving? More ego-driven?

Anonymous said...

Wow, now that you mention it I actually have heard bourgeois liberalish collegiate types say they find the song "Short People" offensive. What a sea change from even the 1970s... we're fast approaching a point of exquisite sensitivity in which artistic expression is rendered practically impossible apart from Shepard Fairey copyright/commie infringement, dumbass films about dolled-up statuesque hitwomen, or the Folsom St. Fair. I wonder if any kids reading that Derbyshire Gawker interview thought it'd be fun to get old so they can be offensive too...

SF said...

When you are in high school, people have rudimentary abilities to play a lot of positions. Baseball involves less specialization of talent than football, so it is more possible that coaching prejudice takes the lefties out of catching. But as a southpaw myself, I was pretty wild and wouldn't trust myself to throw to second.

Anonymous said...

I'd saying being able to throw strongly and accurately to third on a called ball or strike is much more crucial than throwing to first.

The runner is already on first. The best way to keep him from taking a good lead is having 1) a pitcher with a good move to first and 2) a catcher who can throw him out *at second*, not at first (although a few top catchers can indeed throw behind the runner at first and catch him leaning, but that's a bonus.

The only time a catcher HAS to make a strong throw to first is when he fields a ball in the infield, and that requires cat-like quickness more than a great arm although a great arm is always nice.

However, when a runner is at second the catcher would have to have the ability to keep runners from stealing third with less than two outs. If he can't make that throw consistently, he's useless to a team. Teams would be running on him all day just as they do on catchers who throw weakly or inaccurately to second.

Aaron B. said...

It's not even so much that a southpaw catcher will have to twist his body to throw to third, but that when he does, the right-handed batter (which means most of them) will be in his way, and he'll have to move farther to get an open line between his left hand and third base. If he's right-handed, the movement of coming up for the ball puts him in position to throw around the batter without interference.

Anonymous said...

It really sucked for me as a wiry, well-coordinated kid playing baseball that I was not allowed to play any infield position other than first base and pitcher. I did okay at both these positions but probably would have been better suited to be second baseman.

Anonymous said...

Are lefties more ambitious? More conniving? More ego-driven?

Or more likely to have a first name beginning with 'B' or 'G'?

Patterns everywhere I tell ya!

Steve Johnson said...

I follow baseball a bit and I'm frankly shocked at how often players in the minor leagues are shifted from pitching to playing the field and vice versa. For example, the best relief pitcher on the Dodgers, Kenly Jansen, was converted from catcher to pitcher in 2009 - after having caught for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

You'd think that scouting would be more specific and that you'd aim to have players who can hit and other players who are good at pitching specifically but it doesn't seem to work that way in practice.

Given that as a background, the Bill James explanation makes sense. If you can throw well enough to be a major league catcher and you're left handed the team would rather you develop as a pitcher. Lefties who can throw are given every chance to succeed at pitcher*. By the time a guy fails to develop into a major league pitcher it's too late for him to develop as a major league hitter.

* As an example of how much MLB teams prefer left handed pitchers it's a cliche that if a starting pitcher is right handed and not huge (over 6'2" & 200 lbs) he's "small for a right handed starter". There's no such thing as "small for a left handed starter" (or reliever) - teams covet left handed pitching over all else.

Mr Lomez said...

"And righthanded catchers can't throw to first without doing the same thing. I don't know what's more important for a catcher: throwing to third or first."

Third.

This argument is silly. Baseball, among all the sports, is notorious for its reluctance to innovate, but I promise that lefty discrimination at catcher, 2B, SS, and 3B, is entirely justified.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, makes sense, but what can the typical major league catcher hit on the pitching speed radar gun? I've never heard this addressed. Off the top of my head, I'd guess 80 mph. Unless you are Jamie Moyer, you aren't going to make a lot of money throwing 80 mph fastballs.

Steve Sailer said...

What it sounds like to me is a couple of things are going on at lower levels down to Little League All Star games.

Lefthanded catchers are fairly common in Little League because teams are happy to get any kid who is willing to play behind the plate. It's only as the kid rises up the ranks that he starts running into more sophisticated coaches that know that The Book says that lefties can't play catcher.

So, lefthanded catchers get converted to pitcher or outfielder for their own good -- because they can't go to the big leagues as a catcher.

This is also self-serving for the coaches, because anybody who has a strong enough arm to be a major league catcher can strike out lots of high school opponents as a pitcher. And he's a lefty and lefty pitchers have, as we all know, special voodoo powers. But lots of people can throw fastballs past Babe Ruth League and high school hitters.

Steve Johnson said...

A bit of searching found me this:

"# Catchers Throws (MPH)
# Pro Level: 85-86 mph(Release Time:1.85-1.90) seconds
# Division 1: 83-84 mph(Release Time:1.95-2.0) seconds
# Division 2: 81-82 mph(Release Time:2.0-2.03) seconds
# NAIA:81-82 mph(Release Time:2.0-2.03) seconds
# Division 3: 79-80 mph(Release Time:2.03-2.06) seconds
# High School: 77-78 mph(Release Time:2.10-2.15) seconds "

From:

http://www.angelfire.com/vt/prospectwatch/index803.html

Catchers throw starting from a crouch and don't have the luxury of a windup. I'm guessing (again, a guess) that the speeds shown there if translated to pitches will overlap with the range that gets you recruited as a pitcher.

"And he's a lefty and lefty pitchers have, as we all know, special voodoo powers."

Lefties may not have special voodoo powers but they really kill left handed hitting. Left handed hitters are feared exactly for the reasons you described. Anyone who can shut them down is especially valuable. Left handed hitters get very little experience hitting against left handed pitchers on top of the edge that a same handed pitcher has over a same handed batter.

Anonymous said...

Most batters are right handed. Thus a left handed catcher is disadvantaged (compared to a righty) when throwing down to second to catch base stealers. The reason you will see lefty catchers in little league is based on athletic ability. In little league your three best players are almost always the pitcher, catcher and shortstop. In little league that is where all the action is.

Steve Johnson said...

One more thing.

Apparently almost all players who actually make it to the majors play center field or shortstop in college / high school: if you're not athletic enough to play short in high school, you're not athletic enough to play first (the least athletic position) at the major league level after you've filled out (on top of which the demands at each successive level are greater).

I'm not sure that little league coach position assignments are that important to the future of a player who makes it to the show.

There's a baseball cliche "there's no such thing as a second base prospect". Why? Because if he's talented enough to be a prospect, he's playing shortstop when he gets recruited (or center field if he's playing in the outfield).

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Fix your paypal. I want to pay you.

Regards,
fan from India.

slumber_j said...

I always thought it would be nice to be a left-handed catcher for the throw to first on a dropped third strike. You always see the catcher having to range halfway to the mound to get an angle. Then again, they almost always get the runner anyway, so it's not that important.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Lefties don't have identity politics because they're not more related to each other than to everyone else.

Anonymous said...

This rank discrimination against southpaw catchers is more than offset by the number of marginally-talented lefty relief pitchers. Every team has one, and his job is to come in and get a lefty hitter out in a tight situation late in close games.

The perfect example of this type is Tony Fossas. He never made it to the majors until he was 31. He had a 12-year big league career, and he never had a season where he had more innings pitched than games.

FWG said...

I've heard it said the fastest way to the majors is as a left-handed hitting catcher.

Anonymous said...

Might it be because being left-handed isn't even in the same ballpark as being an ethnic minority?

pat said...

Two words:

Sister Fidelis.

I was left handed until I met Sister Fidelis. She changed my life just like one of those Superman teachers we are all supposed to be waiting for.

It's a pity she wasn't obsessed with spelling. I could have used better spelling. But she was obsessed with being right handed.

I imagine that Mickey Mantle was originally a lefty who in trying to bat righty became a switch hitter. Since handedness is modifiable and being a switch hitter is an advantage, maybe the question should be, "Why aren't all players switch hitters?".

Geoff Matthews said...

I've got a passing interest in left/right handedness. I have one brother who is left-handed, and my wife has one brother who is. My first two sons are both left-handed. In the first one's case, it was obvious before he was one.
With my last child, it wasn't clear he was right-handed until he was three.

daveg said...

A left handed person can play second base at most levels without much problem.

You don't need to make a hard through to first so the turn and through is not very costly.

And it is actually an advantage when throwing to second to kick of the double play.

I alternate all my lefties at second to give them infield time and it works just fine.

I will also add that it can help them field grounders up the middle as well as the gloved hand is on the second base side.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI: Lefties Aren’t Special After All

Anonymous said...

Sure,talk about the concerns of the "lefties," but don't mention anything about those of us out here in left field who still suffer under a cloak of invisibility and the shame of ostracism from the glorified infield players who think their sh*t doesn't stink and you want me to believe that you guys really care about the feelings of "lefties".
We,as a society, have a long way to go to true inclusiveness and maybe just a little respect for those of us who are relegated out to left field with nothing to do but scratch our n*ts every once in awhile and maybe every once in awhile you guys hit a ball in our direction but that doesn't make up for the lack of respect we must endure from society.
Left fielders have feelings just like pitchers and short-stop types.It's time that we as a society address the issue if we are to move forward to a better world for everyone-- not just infielders. Joe

ELVISNIXON.com said...

Bill "Spaceman" Lee *Left handed star pitcher of the Red Sox/Montreal Expos (and a spectacular Warren Zevon song with Steve Sailer-esque lyrics) claims that the change to extreme power hitting and emphasis on fastballs has destroyed the need for lefty skills

@dwbudd said...

I don't want to wade into the political issues surrounding the black quarterback cause celebre in the NFL (for one reason, I know almost nothing about football), but with respect to baseball:

1) The point about left-hand catchers has traditionally been less about throwing to third/first base, and more about making the throw to second, which is a FAR more common play. There has traditionally been a more than 50-50 ratio of right to left-hand hitters, and a left-hand catcher making the throw down to second frequently has to avoid the batter in the right hand batter's box, making the play more difficult.

2) As rare as LH catchers are, all the way down to little league, you'll find an even larger dearth of left-hand middle infielders (SS, 2B). Again, this is in part due to the requirement to rotate the body prior to making the throw to first base on an infield ground ball. The additional split-second would result in several extra infield hits per season.

Both of these are RATIONAL arguments as to why lefthanders have been channelled away from catcher and the middle-infield. It has lead to the "wisdom" that these positions are more or less reserved to right-hand players.

3) What is not said is that there is a bias in encouraging left-hand throwers to take on PITCHING that has also fuelled the discrepancy. From a young age, because lefties are a relatively scarce commodity, it is virtually guaranteed that ANYONE who is a south-paw will at least be tried at pitcher at some point. If the kid shows any talent whatsoever (e.g., he can get the ball over the plate), he will pitch.

If you take an already scarce commodity - left hand people are statistically about 1 our of 10 or so in the general population, and then overselect from this group for a position (pitcher), that necessarily means there will be fewer of them available for positions like catcher, which can easily be filled from the larger, right-handed population.

David said...

The Oscar-winning movie "The King's Speech" put forth the theory that forcing left-handers to be right-handers turns them into bed-wetting stutterers who are unable to fight the Hun.

Steve Sailer said...

Peter, Paul & Mary
Right Field Lyrics

Saturday summers, when I was a kid
We'd run to the schoolyard and here's what we did
We'd pick out the captains and we'd choose up the teams
It was always a measure of my self esteem
Cuz the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.
Playing...

Chorus:
Right field, it's easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That's why I'm here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Playing right field can be lonely and dull
Little Leagues never have lefties that pull
I'd dream of the day they'd hit one my way
They never did, but still I would pray
That I'd make a fantastic catch on the run
And not lose the ball in the sun
And then I'd awake from this long reverie
And pray that the ball never came out to me
Here in...

(chorus)

Off in the distance, the game's dragging on,
There's strikes on the batter, some runners are on.
I don't know the inning, I've forgotten the score.
The whole team is yelling and I don't know what for.
Then suddenly everyone's looking at me
My mind has been wandering; what could it be?
They point at the sky and I look up above
And a baseball falls into my glove!

Here in right field, it's important you know.
You gotta know how to catch, you gotta know how to throw,
That's why I'm here in right field, just watching the dandelions grow!

Anonymous said...

What was good enough for a small Texas town is good enough for South Africa. Cell phones involved. Gives whole new meaning to 'phone sex'.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but: John O'Sullivan had a post yesterday on NRO's Corner regarding his fomer association with V-Dare. Last night I was following a discussion in the comment thread on the subject of the ADL, Jews, and anti-Semitism. It was very mild, and yet as of this morning all of those comments had compeltely disappeared, wiped from the memory banks.

Since Derb's firing The Corner has tolerated a lot of discussion on blacks, race, and genetics. So far as I can tell most or all of those comments have remained. Get involved in a mild discussion about how Jews in this country really aren't persecuted, however...

Fuck National Review.

Anonymous said...

"Baseball season reminds us of the identity-politics group that doesn’t bark—left-handers. Why are certain aggregations of once-persecuted people, such as blacks or gays, so politically potent today, while others, such as left-handers, can be safely ignored?"

You can't be serious with this.

Because being gay or black causes a lot more problems in life than being left-handed, and is a lot more difficult to hide.

There is no discrimination againt left-handed people like there are for gays or blacks. the last time I checked, there are no pejorative terms for left-handed people that are analogous to "f-got" or "n-ger". The difficulties in life from being gay or black far surpass those of writing with your left. Have can you even compare the two things? You come across as someone who is either being sarcastic purposefully inconsiderate by raising these points.

Steve Sailer said...

"Gauche" and "sinister" immediately jump to mind, plus all the positive associations of the word "right" such as Bill of Rights, along with words like dextrous.

Anonymous said...

A little off-topic, but as a lefty guitar and bass player, I get a lot flak from people who can't understand my choice. "That's stupid," they say. They think it's just a choice, when actually I started right-handed but couldn't stand the way it felt. I gently point out to them that the greatest (in my humble opinion) rock guitar and bass players, respectively, were Hendrix and McCartney.

Anonymous said...

McCartney?! Les Claypool, Geddy Lee, and Flea are far better bass players, and that's just off the top of my head.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Is the counter-clockwise direction of the base path an artifact of the predominance of right-handedness?

Heck, is the right-handed batters position (looking over the left shoulder) even more natural? Or is IT an artifact of the counter-clockwise direction? Or it it due to dominant eye placement?

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, I imagine the bases are run counterclockwise because that allows righthanders to play better at shortstop, second, and third, which makes for a better game overall because there are so many more righthanders. Imagine you are a right handed 2nd baseman and you stop a hard grounder deep in the hole on the edge of the outfield grass nearish to first base, but for some tactical reason you need to throw to third base. It's going to take you a while to get your feet in position to throw. Well, that's just the mirror image of the play that shortstops have to make in the hole all the time. If the bases were run clockwise, then lefties would have a big advantage at the middle infield positions along with their advantages at the plate, so the game would extremely favor lefthanders instead of just moderately favoring them.

Gil Fields said...

I'm a lefty who plays guitar, bass, and banjo righty. This is a big advantage because all the instruments are right handed, lefty instruments are more expensive and hard to find and hard to sell. But also because my writing hand is my fretting, as opposed to my picking, hand.

It definitely feels very awkward at first, which is why few do it. But once you have "paid your dues", it's a substantial competitive advantage.

Playing lefty is also, I've noticed, a sort of social awkwardness in a band too. Leftys are looked at funny at jam sessions and auditions, as I've noticed when my brother (lefty, plays left) comes over when I'm with a band. I wonder how many leftys quit music when, given a choice between two otherwise comparable players, a band picks the righty subconsciously or on purpose because if his guitar breaks he can't use the other guy's. This didn't hurt McCartney or Hendrix, but could it be like birthdays for hockey players-enough to weed out the marginals?

Miley Cyrax said...

@Anonymous

"There is no discrimination againt left-handed people like there are for gays or blacks. the last time I checked, there are no pejorative terms for left-handed people that are analogous to "f-got" or "n-ger". The difficulties in life from being gay or black far surpass those of writing with your left. Have can you even compare the two things? You come across as someone who is either being sarcastic purposefully inconsiderate by raising these points."

Life may be more difficult if you're black, but that's self or parentally-induced. Not the fault of nebulous "society." Live will be more difficult on average for any group of people with lower mean IQs and higher crime rates.

There's no affirmative action for left-handers, last time I checked.

R. J. Stove said...

Congenital left-handedness, it is said, prevented C.P.E. Bach from playing the violin, as his incomparable dad had done.

Anonymous said...

""Gauche" and "sinister" immediately jump to mind, plus all the positive associations of the word "right" such as Bill of Rights, along with words like dextrous."

How often do you see left-handed people being called gauche or sinister, compared to how often you see gays or black being called f-got and n-ger? And how offensive are gauche and sinister compared to the words n-ger and f-got? I rest my case...

Anonymous said...

Re Gil Fields's comment: If one quits playing guitar (or bass, banjo) because people look at you funny, then maybe one should never have started. I wonder if lefty players have an "advantage" vis-a-vis the employment of brain hemispheres.

If all the instruments were right-handed, then I wouldn't own any. And I've never broken a guitar.

One must be true to oneself.

Re R. J. Stove's comment: Didn't know C.P.E. Bach was a southpaw (Sudenpfote?). He still managed to be a pretty good composer, especially given the towering shadow that he walked in.

TGGP said...

I'm a lefty but I don't generally know if other folks are as well unless they mention it. Lefties doesn't socialize disproportionately with other lefties.

ben tillman said...

What is not said is that there is a bias in encouraging left-hand throwers to take on PITCHING that has also fuelled the discrepancy.

So why does the ball curve so noticeably when a lefty throws it in from the outfield?

ben tillman said...

I gently point out to them that the greatest (in my humble opinion) rock guitar and bass players, respectively, were Hendrix and McCartney.

McCartney ahead of Entwistle? Jack Casady? Phil Lesh?

Anonymous said...

How often do you see left-handed people being called gauche or sinister, compared to how often you see gays or black being called f-got and n-ger? And how offensive are gauche and sinister compared to the words n-ger and f-got? I rest my case...

Or how about the verbal abuse that high-IQ persons endure; "nerd" and "geek" are only the beginning.

Reg Cæsar said...

I remember reading in young-adult biographies of Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax that both started out playing catcher as kids on the sandlot. One used a righty glove backwards, the other tore it apart and wove it back together as a lefty. (Can't remember which, though.) Anyone familiar enough with these men's bios to corroborate this?

Reg Cæsar said...

Perhaps Steve's Finnish readers could add something to the discussion of counterclockwisdom (or whatever the appropriate noun).


Isn't pesäpallo played clockwise, with the third-base-to-home leg quite a bit longer than the home-to-first distance? How do lefties fare in pesäpallo?