August 3, 2015
Origin of the Term "Southpaw"
"The term 'Southpaw' dates back to the 1850s," Paul Dickson, Memories and Dreams: The Official Magazine of the Hall of Fame, Opening Day 2015
The dominant slang term for a baseball player who throws or pitches with the left hand has long been southpaw. It has been in use in baseball since at least 1858 when it made its debut in print in the New York Atlas of Sept. 12, 1858, referring to a lefthanded batsman. "Hallock, a south paw, let fly a good ball into the right field."
Although the term existed before its use in baseball as a description for a left-hander (including boxers), it soon belonged to the National Pastime because it fit with the geography of the typical 19th century ballpark - laid out with home plate to the west, which meant that a left-handed pitcher faced the west and threw with his "southern" limb.
This westward orientation was intended to keep the glare of the afternoon sun ... out of the batters' eyes. It also kept the sun out of the eyes of the customers in the more expensive seats behind the plate. Conversely, it allowed the strong afternoon sun to beat down on the cheap seats, which were known as the "bleaching boards" and then the "bleachers."
The term "southpaw" was given its legs as a baseball term in Chicago by either political humorist Finley Peter Dunne of the Chicago News or Charles Seymour of the Chicago Herald, who both used the term extensively. According to Dunne's biographer, Elmer Ellis ("Mr. Dooley's America," 1942), Dunne invented the term for a left-handed pitcher in "about 1887" because the "Chicago ball park faced east and west, with home plate to the west, so that a left-handed pitcher threw from the south side." H.L. Mencken ("The American Language," Suppl. II, 1948) reported that Richad J. Finnigan, publisher of the Chicago Times, attributed the term to Seymour. As Finnigan put it in a 1945 letter to Mencken: "The pitchers in the old baseball park on the Chicago West Side faced the west and those who pitched left-handed did so with their southpaws."
The term got a literary boost in 1953 as the title of the first Henry Wiggen baseball novel by Mark Harris. "The Southpaw" was followed by the classic "Bang the Drum Slowly."
Slang synonyms for southpaw include portpaw and portsider (alluding to the left or port side of a ship), as well as forkhanders, hook armers, wrong armer and the Spanish zurdo. The term northpaw for a right-handed pitcher has been used on rare occasion, but has never gained popularity.