Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Like Stevie Wonder Said... (Part II)

As I stated in my last post, baseball players are among the most superstitious athletes in all of sports. For instance, the '34 Cardinals (a.k.a. "The Gashouse Gang") refused to change their uniforms when they were on a winning streak, creating a fragrant environment for reporters time and again as they captured a world championship that year. There are some who carried their belief in omens and luck to an even further extreme.

A series of arm injuries in the late-'30's/ early-'40's kept Tigers' hurler Schoolboy Rowe in search of any help he could get. This included wearing amulets, charms and placing a rabbit's foot in his pocket. He also considered his wife Edna a good luck charm, keeping her as close to him as possible. The extent to which this affected his lifetime victory total can never be accurately determined.

White Sox outfielder Minnie Minoso, a seven-time All-Star during the 1950's, held a firm belief in the occult. One day, after a particularly fruitless effort at the plate, he showered in full uniform to "wash away evil spirits." When he followed with a multi-hit game, several of his teammates soaped up with their clothes on as well.

Rangers' first baseman Mike Hargrove was referred to as "The Human Rain Delay" during the '70's and '80's because of his peculiar ritual at the plate, which was deeply rooted in superstition. Before each pitch, he would walk up the first baseline and take three swings. Once in the batter's box, he would pluck at his uniform in numerous places, wipe sweat from his brow with his elbow, dig a hole with his left foot and tap his helmet. If a pitcher began his windup before Hargrove was finished, the eccentric first-sacker would call for time and start over again.

Wade Boggs, a five-time AL batting champ, was another proponent of rituals. During baseball season, he would wake at the same time every morning and eat the same pre-game meal of chicken, a habit that earned him the nickname "Chicken Man" from teammate Jim Rice. Before each at-bat, Boggs would trace the Hebrew word "chai" in the dirt, which literally means "life."

An effective reliever for the Mets and Cubs, Turk Wendell was perhaps the most superstitious man ever to grace the diamond. Wendell exhibited a host of odd compulsions such as brushing his teeth between innings, chewing black licorice, drawing three crosses in the dirt and waving at his center fielder before his first  pitch. He also wore a necklace made of teeth and claws from animals he had slain while hunting. His luck finally ran out in 2004 when he compiled a 7.02 ERA for the Rockies.
In my next installment, we will discuss a pair of ongoing curses. (Not the one involving Babe Ruth--That one was more or less debunked in '04 when the Red Sox won the World Series.)

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