10 Bizarre Athlete Superstitions
By Ethan Trex
If any group has a reason to be superstitious, it's professional athletes. Since their livelihoods rely on their abilities to consistently replicate physical motions, it's hardly surprising that they often don't want to change anything about their routines once they find success. However, some stars take these rituals beyond their logical extremes. Jumping over the baselines when taking the field in baseball? Pretty standard. Wearing the same cup from high school on through your pro career like Mark McGwire reportedly did? Now we're getting a little more peculiar. Here are ten of our favorite truly absurd superstitions.
1. Kevin Rhomberg, Cleveland Indians
Rhomberg played just 41 games in parts of three seasons with the Tribe from 1982-84. But in that short span, the outfielder managed to assert himself as possibly the big leagues' most superstitious player ever. Rhomberg's most peculiar superstition was that if someone touched him, he had to touch that person back. Although this compulsion was not as much of a liability as it might have been in basketball or football, it still led to some odd situations: if Rhomberg were tagged out while running the bases, he'd wait until the defense was clearing the field at inning's end to chase down the player who'd touched him. Rhomberg also refused to make right turns while on the field, because baserunners are always turning left. So if a situation forced him to make a right turn, he'd go to his left and make a full circle to get moving in the correct direction.
2. Mike Bibby, Atlanta Hawks
Like fellow NBA star LeBron James, Bibby has been known to nervously bite and chew his nails during games. When relegated to the bench for a breather during games with the Sacramento Kings, Bibby would obsessively pick at his nails until he stumbled across a better solution: using fingernail clippers on the bench. The clippers became his superstition, and whenever Bibby came to the bench for timeouts, someone would hand him a set so he could go to work on his nails.
3. Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks
Bibby and Terry, college teammates at Arizona, started another odd superstition while playing for the Wildcats. The restless pair slept in the uniform shorts the night before each Arizona game on the logic that it would make the game feel like it was starting sooner. When Terry broke into the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, he decided to start wearing the shorts of the next day's opponent, instead. This ritual is fairly tenuous, though, as it requires Terry to procure a pair of uniform shorts from each opposing NBA team. Although his network of connections with equipment managers and former teammates has helped him out, he had to wear Mavericks shorts before each game of the 2006 NBA Finals since he couldn't find a pair of Heat trunks.
That's not Terry's only superstition, though; he wears knee-high socks as a tribute to his father, which seems normal. The catch is that Terry wears five pairs of them whenever he's on the court; he claims the extra hosiery is more comfortable. Like former third baseman Wade Boggs, Terry also insists on eating chicken before each game, a practice he also says started with Bibby at Arizona, making the 1997 Wildcats the most superstitious team to ever win the NCAA title. [Image courtesy of SI.com.]
4. Moises Alou, New York Mets
Most baseball players wear batting gloves to absorb some of the shock of making contact with the ball and to improve their grip on the bat. A handful eschew gloves in favor of a barehanded approach, though, most famously outfielder Alou. Alou does have a system for avoiding calluses and hardening his skin: he urinates on his hands throughout the season. New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada also employs this superstition to aid in his gloveless approach at the plate. The trick may be more gross than helpful, though: a 2004 article in Slate questioned the value of this superstition since urine contains urea, a key ingredient in moisturizers that actually soften the skin.
5. Bruce Gardiner, Ottawa Senators
Gardiner spent five years as a forward in the NHL, most notably with the Senators. His superstition was even more unsettling than Alou's: before each game, Gardiner would dip the blade of his stick in the locker room toilet. Gardiner's strange superstition started in his rookie reason in Ottawa in 1996. After going several games without a point, he asked veteran Tom Chorske for advice. Chorske told Gardiner he was treating his stick too well and needed to teach the wood to respect him by dunking it in the toilet.
Although Gardiner was initially skeptical, after his cold streak extended for a few more games, he took Chorske's advice. He then got hot and started scoring, and he kept on hitting the bathroom before games. Gardiner eventually backed off of dunking his stick regularly, but he'd still go back to the tactic to end a slump. As he told NHL.com in 2007, "You tape it, you dunk it, and you don't touch it. I'd do anything for a couple of goals."
6. Ecuadorian National Soccer Team
Ecuador's national team knew they needed help if they were to succeed at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Even after practicing and preparing as well as they could, they were still looking for an edge. They found it in Tzamarenda Naychapi, a mystic who London's The Guardian called a "witch doctor-cum-shaman-cum-priest-type-fella," to help enlist the aide of supernatural spirits. Naychapi supposedly visited each of the twelve stadiums being used in the World Cup and chased away any lingering evil spirits and worked a little magic on the pitches and goals themselves. By all accounts the magic worked; although Ecuador is not a traditional soccer powerhouse they defeated Poland and Costa Rica in group play to advance to the Round of 16, where they lost to England 1-0 on a David Beckham goal.
7. Caron Butler, Washington Wizards
When most of us want a glass of something heavily caffeinated that fluoresces green, we can just reach for a Mountain Dew. Sadly for Washington Wizards' All-Star small forward Caron Butler, he can't do the Dew whenever he wants anymore. As Butler told Dan Steinberg of the fantastic D.C. Sports Bog, he would guzzle a two-liter bottle of the sugary soda before and during every game dating back to his All-American career at the University of Connecticut. Butler would throw down half the bottle before the game, then finish it off at halftime. That is, until the Wizards clamped down and forced him to switch to a more traditional sports drink, water.
8. Turk Wendell, Major League Baseball
The eccentric reliever pitched for four teams between 1993 and 2004 and posted some solid seasons in that span. However, he's most remembered for his vast collection of bizarre superstitions. Among Wendell's more notable quirks was his requirement that he chew four pieces of black licorice while pitching. At the end of each inning, he'd spit them out, return to the dugout, and brush his teeth, but only after taking a flying leap over the baseline. An avid hunter, Wendell also took the mound wearing a necklace adorned with trophies from animals he had harvested, including mountain lion claws and the teeth of wild pigs and buffalo. When compared to these superstitions, Wendell's other little oddities (drawing three crosses in the dirt on the mound, always throwing the rosin bag down as hard as he could, and insisting figures in his contract end in 99 as a tribute to his jersey number) don't seem so strange.
9. NASCAR Drivers
Drivers in the top stock-car circuit have their share of superstitions, including green cars being bad luck and a hesitance to carry $50 bills. Possibly the most inexplicable, though, is their adamant refusal to deal with peanuts in their hulls. Specifically, the hulls seem to bother drivers since shelled peanuts or nuts in candy bars are perfectly kosher for the track.
No one is quite sure from where this superstition springs, but it has almost certainly been around since NASCAR's beginnings. One theory dates the tradition back to a 1937 race in Nashville in which peanut shells were sprinkled on the cars of five drivers, all of whom crashed during the race. Another possible backstory holds that one of Junior Johnson's crew was eating peanuts when an engine blew, and the blame fell on the nuts themselves. Others claim that when racing was gaining popularity in the 1930s, mechanics would often find peanut shells from the nearby grandstands in the cylinders of engines that had failed. Whatever the origin, don't take peanuts to the track with you. Any other kind of nut or legume is okay, but peanut shells will only cause misfortune. [Image courtesy of SavvyCenter.com]
10. John Henderson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lining up across from Jaguars defensive tackle Henderson would be pretty terrifying under the best circumstances; the behemoth stands 6'7" and weighs 335 pounds. The former University of Tennessee star has an even more intimidating pregame superstition, though: he has assistant team trainer Joe Sheehan slap him open-handed across the face as hard as Sheehan possibly can. According to the Florida Times-Union, Henderson and Sheehan began the ritual during the 2003 season as a way to get Henderson amped up for the game by taking the day's first hit in a controlled environment in the locker room. Apparently the strategy works, as Henderson has twice made the Pro Bowl since Sheehan started unloading on him.
Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.