As the October Classic heats up, St. Louis moves into fall and Halloween is right around the corner, it only makes sense to take a look at one of the best parts of the game: superstition.
In baseball, superstitions take on a wide variety of forms: curses, batting rituals, random jumping and tons of eating. To get our feet warm, let’s delve into two of the most notable curses to ever come about.
First, we have the Curse of the Great Bambino. This started in 1918 when the Boston Red Sox decided to trade Babe Ruth, the Great Bambino, to – of all teams – the New York Yankees. The curse did not allow the Red Sox to win a World Series for 86 years but was broken when the Sox won the crown in 2004 in a sweep of your St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox seem primed to get back on that track this year after a fantastic season.
Possibly the curse known best to the NL Central, and specifically Cubs fans, is the Billy Goat Curse. The curse started in 1945 when Billy Sianis was kicked out of Wrigley Field during the World Series because his pet goat’s smell was bothering other fans. Sianis proceeded to curse the Cubs by saying, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Sure enough, the Cubs haven’t won a National League Pennant since that day and haven’t won a World Series in 105 years. This curse seems to have a few more years in its tank.
Now that we can all accept the realness of curses, it’s time to dive into the game itself and some rules that are only written on our hearts.
The first rule of Fight Club and of an ongoing perfect game is the same: Don’t talk about it. Just don’t. It is a well-known fact that talking about any such instance will break the magic of that game. In my lifetime it’s happened much too often for me to be able to recall. When I tuned into the Sept. 6 San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks game, one of my friends, who will remain anonymous for his safety, slipped and pointed out the pitching performance by the Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit. Sure enough, one out away from perfection, Petit gave up a single. Perfect game and no-hitter bid gone, just like that. It also happened to the rookie here in St. Louis, Michael Wacha, when he lost his bid for a no-hitter thanks to an ESPN analyst’s decision to comment on the performance.
The other unwritten rule that must be respected to avoid disaster is that you must never step on the foul line when entering the field. Don’t do it. Bad things have happened to good people. Turk Wendell, pitcher for the Mets, Cubs and Phillies, would take this to an extreme and jump over the dirt and foul line for good measure. I don’t know what it is with Mets pitchers and jumping, but Oliver Perez would also emphatically jump over the foul line each time he headed for the dugout. Eating has and will always be a ritual for some people, for others it’s not only a ritual, but a way of life. Matt Garza, pitcher for the Cubs, eats Popeye’s chicken every day that he is scheduled to start. Wade Boggs, third baseman for the Red Sox, ate chicken before every game to the point that he earned the nickname “Chicken Man” for his ritual. Slumps may be the worst part of any athlete’s career. Jason Giambi, a pitcher’s nightmare, was no stranger to slumps even during his prime. How did Giambi climb out of these slumps? A golden thong. You read that right, a golden thong helped Giambi end slump after slump. The thong worked so well that other Rockies decided to borrow the thong to get out of their own slumps.
Everyone knows that numbers are important to players, but sometimes players take that to the extreme. And when I say extreme, I mean penny pushing extreme. Turk Wendell asked the New York Mets to make his salary $9,999,999.99 in recognition of his number, 99, when he played in 2000.
Although players have their own superstitions, fans get extremely crazy on their own. The line between tradition and superstition is often blurred and then crossed by fans. Is the Chop some sort of black magic for the Braves? Clearly it didn’t work all that well in the NLDS… Lucky peanuts anyone? Keep one peanut for that eighth inning rally and then start chewing at that first pitch. Missing the first pitch is a cardinal sin for veteran baseball fans and when you do miss it, you might want to have a very good reason for the baseball gods. We all know in our hearts that sitting in a certain spot, waving a rally towel, putting on the rally cap or turning our back will make our team perform better. It’s been proven time and time again. (Forget about the few times it didn’t work.) Although science, society and even our own mind calls us crazy for thinking that our little effort does anything to change the course of the game, sports fans know that it does work. Each sport provides their own flair to this superstitious way of life, but baseball does it better and more enthusiastically than most.