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January 7, 2009 at 11:22 am ET
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Rickey overcomes rare ailment to make Hall history

Rickey threw left, but batted correctlyRickey Henderson’s election to the Hall of Fame is a foregone conclusion, and next Monday the Greatest Leadoff Hitter in Baseball History will become the first righty-lefty position player welcomed to Cooperstown, which isn’t really surprising since only 45 hitters in MLB history have had this rare combination.

Henderson, however, won’t be the first player in Cooperstown with this strange coordination. Several pitchers, including one of my all-time favorites, Eppa Rixey, played with this odd disease. Like Henderson, they were able to overcome their disability and find success.

In honor/advance of Rickey’s Hall of Fame ascension on January 12th, here’s a capsule look at some of the well-known righty-lefty players in Major League Baseball history. Believe it or not, some of these players still live among us today.


Shortest righty-lefty in Major League Baseball history:
Eddie Gaedel. Most baseball fans know the surface story of Bill Veeck’s pint-sized pinch hitter: In 1951, the 3-7 dwarf was sent to the plate wearing elf slippers on his feet and the number 1/8 on his back. (Ahh, the 50s, when life was so pure and simple.) Batting right-handed, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches and was then lifted for a pinch runner. Because he never played in the field, most people don’t know that he also threw left-handed. Because of the stunt, all contracts must now be approved by the commissioner before a player can enter a game. Otherwise the league might be overrun with dwarves.

Most crooked righty-lefty: Hal Chase. Considered one of the best glove men of his generation, the Dead Ball Era first baseman was also a great hitter (.291 lifetime, 1916 NL batting champion). Contemporaries like Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson said he was a stud, and baseball historians Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time in 1981. That said, Bill James rated him as a C- fielder in his book Win Shares so no one seems to agree on how good he really was. Everyone, however, seems to agree he was a degenerate gambler, including Chase himself.

On why he bet on baseball: “I wasn’t satisfied with what the club owners paid me. Like others, I had to have a bet on the side and we used to bet with the other team and the gamblers who sat in the boxes. It was easy to get a bet. Sometimes collections were hard to make. Players would pass out IOUs and often be in debt for their entire salaries. That wasn’t a healthy condition. Once the evil started there was no stopping it, and club owners were not strong enough to cope with the evil.”

On his legacy: “You note that I am not in the Hall of Fame. Some of the old-timers said I was one of the greatest fielding first baseman of all time. When I die, movie magnates will make no picture like Pride of the Yankees, which honored that great player, Lou Gehrig, I guess that’s the answer, isn’t it? Gehrig had a good name; one of the best a man could have. I am an outcast, and I haven’t a good name. I’m the loser, just like all gamblers are. I lived to make great plays. What did I gain? Nothing. Everything was lost because I raised hell after hours. I was a wise guy, a know-it-all, I guess.”

Wait, did Pete Rose throw lefty too? No, he did not.

Hall of Fame pitchers who threw lefty and batted righty: Rixey, Carl Hubbell, Sandy Koufax, Rube Waddell.

Future Hall of Fame pitcher: Randy Johnson.

Johnson is a right-lefty who masturbates with…both hands. He has a big unit.

Pitcher with his own arm operation: Tommy John.

Number of pitchers all-time: 425, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Other notable hurlers: Jerry Koosman, Randy Jones, Al Downing, Dave McNally, Preacher Roe, Danny Jackson, Don Gullett, Wilbur Wood, Tug McGraw, Mark Langston, Jesse Orosco, Terry Mulholland, Mike Hampton.

Best nickname: Vinegar Bend Mize, a.k.a, Wilmer David Mizell. He hailed from Vinegar Bend, Alabama, and won 90 games in a 9-year career in the 1950s and early 60s.

Best Mad Hungarian: Al Hrabosky.

Highest career batting average:
Chucho Ramos. He hit .500 in 10 career plate appearances in 1944, and is the only right-lefty position player with a career average over .300.

Best fielding outfielder: Cleon Jones.

Best active hitter: Ryan Ludwick. The 29-year-old Cardinals outfielder came out of nowhere to hit .299 with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs last year, and finished 16th in the MVP voting and made his first All-Star Game.

Second-best active hitter: Cody Ross.

Third-best: None. Seriously, Ludwick and Ross are the only two active hitters who hit righty and throw lefty. Jason Lane was a third, but he didn’t play in the majors last year.

Players in recent memory who also lived their lives this way: Brian Hunter, Damon Hollins, David McCarty.

What kind of All-Star team could we put together? One heavily dependent on pitching. Seriously, Mike Hampton would probably hit clean-up.

Congratulations…to Rickey Henderson.

Cam Martin also writes for CBS Sportsline and Comcast SportsNet New England.

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