Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Babe Ruth

Even casual baseball fans — heck, even your grandma — are familiar with the Sultan of Swat and his 714 home runs. But fewer people realize that early in his career, Ruth was also one of the game's élite pitchers. Between 1915 and 1919, he won 85 games (plus three World Series contests) while notching an ERA of 2.02, before the Boston Red Sox decided he'd be more valuable at the plate.

But while Ruth is baseball's most decorated left-handed player, he's hardly the only Hall of Fame southpaw. It's almost impossible for lefties to thrive in certain positions — including catcher, shortstop, second and third base — because they are required to throw awkwardly across their bodies to make plays in the field. But southpaws have distinct advantages on the diamond. Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton are among the left-handed pitchers who have frustrated hitters. Lefty batters also do better at the plate: they do better against right-handed pitchers and stand a precious step or two closer to first base, advantages that sluggers from Ty Cobb and Stan Musial to Ted Williams and Barry Bonds have clearly used to their benefit.