By Aaron Koos
One great aspect of baseball is the sport’s enduring indulgence in superstition, unexplainable phenomena, and general quirkiness. Today, Rodrigo Lopez told The Sun that his preference for being caught by Javy Lopez "could be superstition, whatever."
Lopez may try to minimize his statement by throwing in a nonchalant “whatever,” but after the Lopez-Lopez battery recorded their third win in a row Sunday, you can bet that Sam Perlozzo won’t dare break that streak of luck next time Rodrigo is scheduled to take the mound. Because, while all athletes usually profess to some superstitious behavior, baseball players’ collective obsession with luck and taboo approaches a level of mental illness.
I once knew a college baseball player who absolutely freaked out when I innocently picked up his game bat. I didn’t know the rule that “NOBODY TOUCHES THE BAT … EVER!” I thought he was kidding, until I was not so politely escorted out the door to keep him from taking batting practice on my skull. I can only imagine what sacred rituals were performed to remove the impurities I had inadvertently transferred to the bat.
You see, I didn’t understand that hits actually reside inside bats, and there is a finite number in each bat. This isn’t the theory of just one psycho, either. The belief is widespread and persistent, and Major League Baseball is Chock Full O’Nuts.
Struggling Kevin Millar was pinch-hitting on May 14 with the Orioles trailing the Royals with two outs in the ninth when his bat broke. Miguel Tejada tossed Millar one of Tejada’s own bats, with which Millar then proceeded to drive in the winning run. Millar later commented that the bat actually felt awful in his hands, but he still used it because it belonged to Tejada and therefore probably had some hits left in it.
Later, when Millar was relaying the story to reporters in the clubhouse, he motioned to Tejada that he still had the bat, but wasn’t in any hurry to give it back. Apparently, Tejada smiled and gave the thumbs up sign, but I doubt he was in any hurry to claim it back either, given Millar’s string of luck – or lack of it. It would probably take a voodoo high priest and truckload of mojo to restore the bat to Tejada’s liking.
There are hundreds of great stories about baseball superstition, from curses involving Bambinos and Billy Goats, to rituals you can see every night in every park around the country, like players hopping over the foul line or donning rally caps.
The personal superstitions of individual players are the best. Wade Boggs is one of the most notorious worshippers of Lady Luck, religiously eating fried chicken before each game of his 18-season long career, but he had a whole litany of ritualistic, bizarre habits that you can read about here.
Here's a sample:
During night games, Boggs stepped into the batting cage at 5:17 and ran wind sprints at exactly 7:17. (Once, in Toronto, a devious scoreboard technician changed the clock from 7:16 to 7:18. Boggs reportedly threw up.)
I don’t know what it is about Boston, but Fenway Park seems to be at the epicenter of baseball’s Twilight Zone. On a visit there several years ago, I realized that Nomar Garciaparra is one obsessive compulsive dude. The day I was watching him I noticed that he was constantly twitching, hopping, wiping, and tapping while he was in the field – like he was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I don’t think he was relaying signs either, unless they were from extraterrestrials.
At first I thought he was just keeping loose, but as the innings wore on, I realized I was watching a superstitious obsessive-compulsive disorder ritual that he carried out before every single pitch. It was so involved that he didn’t even slide his glove on until the split second before the pitcher released the ball. It was nerve wracking to watch. It’s not something you normally pick up about Nomar in TV coverage, and I’ve never really heard it widely discussed. Is this well known? Whatever he’s doing now, though, he should probably continue; he’s currently hitting .369 for the Dodgers … knock on wood.
If you have a favorite baseball superstition or quirk, please post a comment to this blog – especially any Orioles-specific oddities. We’d love to hear about them, or about any lucky charms or rituals you use as a fan. However, if you are currently “helping” the O’s (sub-.500, fourth place, 8.5 games back), you might want to consider either switching up your routine, or doubling your efforts. Whatever. (As Rodrigo would say.)
Oh, as for my CAP rating – the ultra-scientific system that rates my abilities as a fan in the categories of Current Knowledge, Ardor, and Participation – it dropped significantly these past two weeks. Just as I predicted, exciting season finales during May sweeps, and a long, often un-televised West Coast road trip just about drove me away. I’m only averaging a dismal .097, and if I don’t watch out I’ll be designated for assignment soon.
Luckily, I’ve got this blog to keep me involved.