TR Robertson — Everyone has a superstition or two or three. Some are very common, such as not walking under a ladder, only picking up a penny if it is face up, knocking on wood twice to keep good luck, tossing spilled salt over your opposite shoulder to keep away bad luck and many, many more. Athletes at all levels of sports seem to have more superstitions than most of us. There are a variety of quirky things these athletes do over and over, both in their locker rooms and right in front of us, to mentally prepare themselves for their sport.
The most noticeable is baseball players who have particular routines/superstitions. This is especially noticeable when they are in the batter’s box. Some tap their shoes with their bat in particular ways, continually adjusting their batter’s gloves or helmet, some type of routine either before they get ready to bat or outside of the batter’s box. Some pitchers must pick the ball up off the ground when they get to the mound instead of someone throwing it to them to start the game. Some players kiss their bats or gloves, and some use their bats to draw symbols in the batter’s box. Many players step over the white foul/fair lines marking the field rather than walking on the chalk lines. In a recent Padres game, I saw a relief pitcher for the Texas Rangers go to the back of the mound and use his finger to write a name or message into the dirt of the mound. Batting stance rituals are also an interesting thing to watch as a batter gets ready to hit. Next time you watch a game, watch how a hitter will go through the same routine over and over to insure they will be successful at the plate.
Some of these superstitions for baseball players are group beliefs and some individual. A few of these are:
- Pitchers usually don’t shave on game day (many are growing beards these days)
- Some players won’t step on foul lines when taking or coming off the field
- If a player has a great day at the plate, he will keep using the same bat until he cools off
- No one talks to the pitcher when he is close to a no-hitter.
- Many outfielders always step on second base when they are on their way in or out from the outfield.
One player said, “If one little thing doesn’t go right, it can throw you off. If you don’t complete your superstition, it can throw you off and make you look like you’ve never played the game before.” In the famous baseball movie, “The Natural”, Roy Hobbs used a bat he made from a tree that was struck by lightning. He named it “Wonder Boy” and burned a lightning bolt on the bat.
Here are some of the unusual superstition’s baseball players have used over the years to try and ensure they would be successful.
- Elliot Johnson would always chew grape flavored gum before he took the field
- Pitcher Ryan Dempster always ate at the same Italian restaurant on days that he was going to pitch.
- Pitcher Matt Garza would treat his teammates to Popeye’s Chicken every day he would pitch.
- Wade Boggs, Boston Red Sox, would eat fried chicken every day he played.
- Relief pitcher Jose Valverde would trot onto the field with a mouthful of water, spitting it out from both side of his mouth.
- Richie Ashburn, Philadelphia Phillies, used to sleep with his bat.
- Willie Stargell, Pittsburgh Pirates, would not use a bat with his name one it, it had to be somebody else’s bat.
- If some players are on a streak of some sort, they will wear the same under shirt, underwear, socks, jewelry, or some other item to continue that streak.
- This was hilariously shown in “Bull Durham” when pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, began wearing a garter belt he was given by Susan Sarandon’s character.
- Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, felt the number 33 gave him good luck. He wore #33, set his alarm for 33 minutes past the hour, took practice swings in sets of three and was married on November 3rd at 3:33.
- Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, kissed his cross on his necklace after each homerun.
- David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox, during each at bat, would step out of the box, tuck the bat under his arm, spit in his hand and clap.
- When Roger Clemens played for the NY Yankees, when at home he would wipe his forehead and touch the Babe Ruth plaque before the game.
- When Mariano Rivera, NY Yankees, walked to the mound he would always enter with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” playing.
- When Trevor Hoffman, San Diego Padres, entered the game he would always enter to AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”
- Al Hrabosky, St. Louis Cardinals, between each pitch, would take a few steps toward second base behind the rubber, roll the ball between his hands, pound the ball into his glove, turn and stomp back toward the pitching rubber.
- In one slump, Jason Giambi wore a gold thong under his uniform to break out of the slump.
- Dick Stuart, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox, would take a piece of the gum he was chewing, while he approached the plate, and toss this piece across the plate before batting.
- Nomar Garciaparra, Boston Red Sox, like many other players, between each pitch at the plate would step back and adjust both of his batting gloves after each pitch. Padres rookie Jake Cronenworth does the same thing.
- Reggie Jackson kept the same batting helmet regardless of who he played for. He would have his new team’s logo added to the old helmet.
- Charlie Kerfeld, Houston Astros, wore a “Jetsons” t-shirt under his uniforms. It had a picture of the dog named Astro on it.
- Satchel Paige would have his pitching arm rubbed down with axle grease before each game he pitched.
- Glenn Davis would save gum he was chewing and put it under the bill of his cap to reuse if he were on a hitting streak.
- Mark Fidrych, Detroit Tigers, would get on his hands and knees to manicure the pitching mound before he prepared to pitch.
- Mike Hargrove had the nickname “The Human Rain Delay” because of the pre-at-bat ritual he went through before getting into the batter’s box to hit.
- Pitcher Greg Swindell would bite off a piece of one of his fingernails before each game and keep it in his mouth the rest of the time he was on the mound.
- Turk Wendell would chew 4 pieces of black licorice instead of gum or tobacco.
- The 1894 Baltimore Orioles had a strange superstition. The entire team would sit down and chug a glass of turkey gravy before taking batting practice. The won the National League pennant that year and everyone in the starting line-up hit over .300.
Some of these superstitions become common habits for the players as they try to use any personal psychological advantage to assure they are successful. This is common for every sport at every level. It is a fun part of the game and adds to the uniqueness of the sport. Next up a look at superstitions for other sports.