For a switch, why doesn’t baseball go ambidextrous? (1 Viewer)

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Sean Mota

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A couple of weeks ago I was talking sports with colleague Frank Stamski of the Rochester Business Journal—he’s a Yankees fan, but I didn’t hold that against him—and he asked a question that left me totally baffled.

“There are switch hitters in baseball,” Frank said, “so why aren’t there switch pitchers in baseball?”

I started to try to explain to him that there aren’t switch pitchers in baseball because they are … I mean, because teams don’t … well, because it just doesn’t. … Then I realized I didn’t have a clue why the Grand Old Game didn’t have switch pitchers—at least not in the major leagues.

I was stumped, for the simple reason such a concept had never crossed my mind. Frank might as well have asked me to explain nuclear fusion. Then I started thinking about it and came up with another question: Why not?

Just look around you. When kids start playing basketball, they’re told they need to learn to dribble and shoot with their right hand and their left hand. There have been tennis players, and no doubt still are, who can hit shots with either hand when they need to. Even some golfers are somewhat ambidextrous.

In baseball, though, such versatility has always been limited to batters. There have even been major league pitchers with only one arm. And who can forget Monty Stratton, aka Jimmy Stewart, who injured his right leg in a hunting accident in 1938, was forced to have it amputated, then pitched on one wooden leg into the 1950s, albeit in the minor leagues.

Ah, but guess what? There was one switch pitcher—well, sort of. Greg Harris, who pitched for eight different major league teams from 1981 to 1995, was ambidextrous, but the only time he ever officially pitched with both arms was in the last game of his career, on Sept. 28, 1995. He retired one batter pitching left-handed and two pitching right-handed.

Reportedly, that was the only time Harris pitched from both sides in a big league game, which is astounding. Remember former Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley? He came up with yellow baseballs and white shoes and any number of other stunts to pique fans’ interest. But he never had an ambidextrous pitcher.

Apparently, Harris was considered some sort of freak or something. How else can we explain why baseball, from Little League on up, hasn’t pushed switch pitching? Fathers everywhere tell their kids all about the advantages of being able to hit from both sides of home plate, but do any of them ever encourage little Johnny to learn to pitch with both arms? Obviously not.

It makes no sense. Let’s say you’re a major league manager. Your ambidextrous right-hander walks the leadoff man, the second batter pokes a single to right and a .350 left-handed slugger steps into the box with the game on the line. So, what do you do, go to an overworked bullpen and replace your starter with some suspect southpaw, then close your eyes and cross your fingers?

Hardly. You simply call time out, take your pitcher’s right-handed glove to the mound and with his left arm he throws a couple of 90 mph fastballs and two or three nasty curveballs and strikes out the befuddled slugger. Then he goes back to his right arm and forces the next batter to hit into a double play to end the inning. And the guys in the bullpen don’t have to do anything more complicated than discuss where they’re eating after the game.

The problem with big league sports, whether it’s baseball or whatever, is that so many general managers, managers, etc., have tunnel vision. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense; it’s just a “not the way we do things around here” philosophy. If science had such tunnel vision, we’d all be driving ’55 Chevys and I’d still be writing this on an Underwood.

That’s why NFL coaches approach so-called trick plays as if they were some treasure map sold by a street vendor. There was a time when teams battled to get the leadoff man on base—walk, hit, error, it didn’t matter—and he would either steal second or the No. 2 batter in the lineup tried to hit the ball to right field so he could advance to third and score on just about anything other than a strikeout. Now, it’s bombs away or nothing.

Nowadays, your pitching staff has to have a starting rotation, a middle reliever or two, a couple of setup men and at least one closer. A guy who pitches a complete game makes headlines.

Don’t know about you purists out there, but I wish my Boston Red Sox, going into this weekend’s showdown series with Frank’s beloved Yankees, had an ambidextrous flame thrower who could shut down the Yanks left-handed Friday and right-handed Saturday.
Anyway, if you’ve got a precocious 8-year-old with a good arm, may I suggest you start right now helping him develop two good arms and make him a switch pitcher.

As Frank said the other day, “They would make a mint!” And ain’t that what’s it’s all about?
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Jeff T

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My son can not throw the ball with both arms, but at 12 he can throw it 82 MPH. His little brother 11 has a cannon also.
 

Jimbo

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Maybe it's because the pitchers on most teams cannot pitch worth a da*m as it is, now you want them to try using the opposite hand ???
Well, I guess it might not be any worse......
There are about 10-15 good quality pitchers in baseball.
Just look at teams rotation, after #1 and maybe 2 , you got ..... not much.

Just my opinion,
Jimbo
 

Foxbat

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Okay, how about this: What would the pitcher do with his glove if he switched hands?

Maybe a special glove with two thumbs?
 
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