According to Washington University professor David A. Peters, baseball diamonds are a left-hander's best friend. Peters, who teaches mechanical and aerospace engineering, recently turned his academic eye toward proving how lefties have a distinct advantage when it comes to our national pastime, pointing out, among other things, that lefties have a shorter run to first base.
Unreal never bought into the old expression that only left-handed people are in their right mind. And we groan every time Ron Villone, the Cardinals' current lefty reliever-in-residence, trots to the mound. We called Peters to set the southpaw record straight.
Unreal: Wild guess: You're left-handed.
Professor David A. Peters: I was born left-handed, but my parents and teachers made me switch. I was born in 1961, so they still did that then. I stutter now. That's a common result of making people switch.
You know, it could've been worse. In medieval times they accused lefties of witchcraft and burned 'em at the stake. Maybe they were on to something, though: Left-handers in baseball are notoriously goofy. Bill "Spaceman" Lee asked whether they leave the Green Monster at Fenway Park after games, and Joe Jackson couldn't even remember to wear shoes.
Yeah, Shoeless Joe, poor guy. I don't know if their brains are backwards or if they've been forced to be goofy by being forced to live in right-handed world.
You discuss at length the fact that lefties are closer to first and have a big advantage by being able to leg out base hits. Now, this might be just a rumor, but I heard that Abner Doubleday felt sorry for lefties and wanted to give them a bit of a boost.
Well, Abner Doubleday didn't really even invent baseball. If you saw [Ken Burns'] series on baseball, it's probably like that because the right-handed hitters were facing the way they were going to run. It goes back to cricket. I don't think they gave left-handers an intentional advantage.
Touché. Well, you also make the point that when left-handed pitchers throw, the ball naturally tails away from righties. So you're saying they can't even throw the ball straight.
It's a good thing they have movement! That's because as you grow up left-handed, you hold your hand differently when you write. It may change the way you do other things too — a left-handed swing is not the mirror image of right-hander's, because they face right-handed pitchers their whole lives.
OK, fine. But how about this: They can't even play third, shortstop, second or catcher! That's four of the nine positions on the field!
That's not fair, is it? Of course, they're really good at first base.
Can we agree on this? Switch hitters have the biggest advantage.
They do. They get the best angle from the pitcher either way. That's what Mickey Mantle's dad did: He was right-handed and his dad made him switch-hit. I always said I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous.
Exactly! It's like Yogi Berra said: "Mickey Mantle can hit just as good left-handed as he can right-handed. He's naturally amphibious."
The Good Fight
Until last week, Unreal's favorite war was the War of Jenkins' Ear. That conflict began in 1739 when a Spanish sea captain cut off the ear of a British sea captain — the eponymous Jenkins. The British, who were bored and bellicose and also probably covetous of Spain's holdings in the West Indies, promptly declared war. You can't get much more absurd than a war fought over an ear, we thought.
But then we learned about the Honey War.
The Honey War was the greatest military non-triumph in Missouri's history, the climax of several months of wrangling over the border between Missouri and the Iowa Territory a hundred years after Jenkins' mishap. The two proposed borders were nine to eleven miles apart. Nonetheless, Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs was determined that if there were taxes to be collected, then by God, he was going to collect them.
The residents of what is now Lacey-Keosauqua State Park demurred. It was unclear whether their Iowa pride was wounded or they just saw a way out of paying taxes. Undeterred, the Clark County, Missouri, sheriff cut down three honey trees as compensation. He was beset by a pack of incensed Iowans brandishing pitchforks, who captured him and carried him off to the Muscatine jail.
Governor Boggs immediately declared his intention to invade Iowa and rescue his sheriff. But to do that, he would need a militia. Since it was December, he didn't get many volunteers. Iowa Territory Governor Robert Lucas was more successful in assembling soldiers, although a few seemed uncertain about what constituted proper weaponry: One carried a sausage stuffer.
Here accounts vary. One version has it that when the Missourians caught sight of the mighty Iowans and their sausage stuffer, they beat a hasty retreat. But can you really trust the impartiality of a text called Stories of Iowa for Boys and Girls? We think not.
So we turn to the Missouri Conservationist Online, which claims that by the time the two militias had assembled, a treaty had been negotiated wherein the sheriff would be released and the matter would be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. (The court took its sweet time, but in 1849 finally granted Missouri a little more territory, though not Lacey-Keosauqua.)
Meanwhile, the Missourians, camped out in the snow, had gone through most of their provisions, which consisted largely of whiskey. "Even so," our historian tells us, "they weren't the happiest of campers. They wanted to shoot something. So they split a haunch of venison, labeled one half 'Gov. Boggs,' the other 'Gov. Lucas,' shot them full of holes and held a mock funeral. Then both sides made a rowdy retreat."
It makes Unreal unspeakably proud to be a Missourian.
Ask a Cougar!
Are you a cougar who's bagged herself a passel of young male tail in the St. Louis wild? Do you have tips to offer aspiring members of the breed and the fellas who want in? Do you wish you could've starred in last week's Unreal feature, "Cougar Heaven"?
Well, we might still have a place for you — on our masthead.
That's right: Riverfront Times seeks a scribe for a new column: "Ask a Cougar!"
Our certain someone is experienced as a huntress, but also good with deadlines.
She is witty, and irreverent when necessary. She tells it like it be's.
As RFT's resident coug, she will respond (à la "Dear Abby," only feistier) to a batch of questions from readers (frequency to be determined). Topics covered might include things like proven pouncing technique and protection. No cougar-related query will be off-limits.
Are you our lady? If yes, tell us why, in 500 words or less. In addition, please make up an "Ask a Cougar!" question and pen a response as you would give it to our readers. E-mail your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.