Major League baseball players are the absolute worst. Scientists called it a kinetic trigger, yet the players referred to their weird science as “routines.” We all know the truth; they’re superstitious. They confuse routine for superstition. In the old days you would hear the words, hex, jinxed, quirks, rituals, and idiosyncrasies. Some players even carried a rabbit’s foot in their pockets for good luck. These triggers were designed to bring the individual luck or ward off the baseball demons. You need not look any further than last year, as the playoff beards of the World Champion Boston Red Sox topped the “Curse of the Bambino.” (The player’s refused to shave during the playoffs.)
There is no doubt that baseball is the hardest game of them all to excel in both mentally and physically. The pressure to succeed allows us to doubt our own abilities. Sometimes, the hardest thing in life to overcome is ourselves; our own superstitions. In creating routines, we convince ourselves that we have given ourselves an edge that allows us to play better. Is it true? Some swear by it and others just laugh, but with success we form habits, some good, and some bad. Superstitions come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and include everything from food to equipment and clothes.
Some examples are as follows. Players sat in the same spot on the bench during every game. They swung two bats in the on-deck circle before their turn at the plate. Rally caps were in order when their team was behind. Lots of players, especially pitchers, did not shave on purpose, before taking the mound. It made them feel more aggressive. Players wore the same underwear or sox when things went their way and their routine never included washing the articles of clothing if they continued to win. Many players chewed tobacco to relax: Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Luis Tiant and “Sparky” Lyle to name a few.
Now that you’re warmed up, let’s see how close you have been watching our National Pastime. Let’s recall some of the more popular superstitions. Did you know that “Babe” Ruth used to knock the dirt out of his spikes with his bat after every called strike? Yankee pitcher Vic Rashi refused to allow his picture to be taken before a game he was pitching. Ted Williams would place his bat under his arm and pull down hard on his cap after the second strike had been called by the umpire. Jackie Robinson always walked to home plate to hit, by passing in front of the opposing catcher. Even if the catcher was out at the mound talking with his pitcher, Jackie would wait until the catcher had retuned to his position and then pass in front of him, to step into the batter’s box. Let’s call that intimidation at its best. Phil Rizzuto would place his chewing gum on top of his hat for safe keeping, while batting. When he got two strikes on him, he would place the gum back in his mouth. Willie Mays never went to centerfield without first touching second base. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, twirled his right thumb while holding his bat, before hitting. Pittsburgh Pirate, Ralph Kiner, never stepped on a white line on the field of play. “It didn’t help or hurt me,” said Ralph. “I just didn’t want to take any chances.”
Remember Mark “The Bird” Fidrych talking to himself and constantly cleaning the mound while pitching for the Detroit Tigers. After every 0-4 game, Chicago White Sox’s “Minnie” Minoso would shower in his entire uniform including spikes to wash away the bad karma. Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan would cock and re-cock his right elbow continuously, while waiting in the batter’s box for the next pitch. Everyone knew about Wade Boggs’ superstition; he always ate chicken before every game. Red Sox teammate Nomar Garciaparra’s toe tap between every pitch became the conversation piece when he played. Larry Walker was crazy about the #3. Not only did he wear #33 but he was married at 3:33 PM on November 3rd. Walker always took three practice swings before an at-bat and purchased thirty-three tickets for underprivileged kids in section 333 for every home game. Now I can’t explain why he hit 383 home runs for his career. It seems to me he recorded fifty more than needed. New York pitcher, Andy Pettitte, liked to listen to the entire sound track from the movie “Rocky” before the games he pitched; and Atlanta’s “Chipper” Jones played computer solitaire right up to game time in the club house.
Time has not dampened the need for players to increase their chances of playing great. Yankees’ Alfonso Soriano always makes a mark in the dirt next to home plate before stepping in the batter’s box. New Texas Ranger, Prince Fielder, always breaks apart an Oreo cookie before the game. Prince claims he can tell how the game will go by how much cream is stuck to one side of the cookie. Oriole’s first baseman, Chris Davis, always brushes his teeth before every game. Cincinnati Reds’ Todd Frazier chants before a game, as others in the clubhouse wonder if he’s okay. White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn always spits a huge wad of gum onto the field of play before game time. “I don’t know why I do it, I just always have,” said Dunn. Jason Giambi claimed he had a magical beard. After he grew the facial hair, his batting average went up 80 points. I’m thinking the steroids helped. Texas Ranger’s pitcher, Derek Holland, has to play Nintendo Hockey the night before he pitches.
But the guy who takes the cake is Roger Clemens. While with the Yankees, for good luck, Roger would rub Babe Ruth’s plaque that hangs in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, before every game in which he pitched. You could even see him whispering underneath his breath, but I don’t think he has ever shared with us what he was saying. It is also well-known that the strikeout in baseball is referenced as a “K” on your scorecard. Roger Clemens recorded 4.672 “K’s” during his 24-year career. You would think that was enough. But Clemens took this a step farther by starting all four of his sons’ names with a K. They are in order Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody.
Kinetic trigger, I doubt it. Can anyone say Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? (OCD)
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.