Top 10 Baseball Player Rituals

iStock / IPGGutenbergUKLtd
iStock / IPGGutenbergUKLtd

I tend to be a little superstitious. For instance, when I make changes to my files, I'll use normal, ascending nomenclature for each consecutive draft (e.g. _02.doc, _03.doc, etc.) However, before sending my agent the final draft of a novel, I'll always change the nomenclature to one of my lucky numbers, like _27 or _72, even if I'm still only on draft _14. Yeah, writers are a strange bunch.

Turns out, Baseball players are an even stranger bunch. Surely you've seen Nomar Garciaparra ticking through his batting glove rituals, or how Mark "The Bird" Fidrych used to talk to his baseballs. But these are the obvious, well-documented ones. Patrick Saunders, over at The Denver Post, recently wrote about (mostly Rockies) players and their crazy rituals. Stan Grossfeld, at the Globe, threw some light on some other players' quirks. And our own Ethan Trex wrote about athlete superstitions. Between the three, I've mashed up my Top-10 list.

10. Moises Alou

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. (Trex)

9. Wade Boggs

A former third baseman, primarily with the Boston Red Sox, Wade ate chicken before every game. He took exactly 150 groundballs during infield practice. He also had a fixation on time. At Boston Red Sox night home games, he ran wind sprints at precisely 7:17 p.m. Before each at-bat, Boggs would draw a chai — the Hebrew symbol for life — into the dirt of the batter's box. (Saunders)

8. Turk Wendell

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. (Trex)

7. Larry Walker

The former Rockies star was obsessed with the number "3." He set his alarm for 33 minutes past the hour, took practice swings in multiples of three, wore No. 33, was married Nov. 3 at 3:33 p.m., and bought tickets for 33 disadvantaged kids when he played in Montreal, to be seated in Section 333 at Olympic Stadium. (Saunders)

6. Clint Barmes

Once, Barmes sprained his ankle and had it taped up. He began hitting so well that once the ankle healed he kept on getting it taped. In the minors, Barmes ate a Subway sandwich for lunch and hit well that game. He ordered the same sandwich at the same Subway for more than a week until he cooled off. (Saunders)

5. Kevin Rhomberg

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. (Trex)

4. Jason Marquis

In the minors, if he spit on the field, he had to make sure it wasn't on the mound. If he did happen to spit on the dirt, he wiped away the spit with his shoe. If his team was ahead and he was in the dugout, Marquis always unbuttoned his jacket when there were two outs in the ninth inning. (Saunders)

3. Coco Crisp

Center fielder Coco Crisp does the same ritual during every at-bat. "I pick up dirt, spit on my hands," he says. Then, coiled in the batter's box, he wiggles his fingers as if they've fallen asleep. "I don't wear batting gloves. I move my left hand. It relaxes me and helps my timing. I stomp my front foot down. It's a habit. I'm not that superstitious, although sometimes I skip over the line." (Grossfeld)

2. Yorvit Torrealba

Before leaving the dugout for an at-bat, Torrealba takes a drink of water from a paper cup and tosses the cup. If the cup stays right side up, he figures he's going to get a hit. "I know for a fact that I'm going to get a hit, probably a double. At least it's worked a few times," he said.

In the on-deck circle, Torrealba spits out his bubble gum and tries to hit it with his bat. If he connects, he's confident he'll get a hit. (Saunders)

1. Jason Grilli

In his Little League days, Grilli put a two-sided baseball card in his shoe. On one side was Ken Griffey Jr.; on the other side was Nolan Ryan. On the days Grilli pitched, Ryan was face up in the shoe. On other days, Griffey faced up.

"I guess I thought it would somehow absorb their abilities, gain some of their super powers," Grilli said.

Back when Grilli was a starting pitcher, he ate linguini with clam sauce before every start. Grilli did, after all, pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic this spring. (Saunders)

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

6 Surprising Ways Baseball Actually Favors Lefties

Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series in 2019.
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

If you grew up playing baseball, tee-ball, softball, or any other derivative of America’s favorite pastime, you might be familiar with certain positions left-handed people are unofficially prohibited from playing—you’ll hardly ever see a left-handed shortstop or third baseman, for example, because they’d be facing the wrong direction for any throws to the right side of the field. However, there are plenty of other parts of the game that are equally important as efficiently making outs at first or second base, and some of them can even favor lefties. Read on to find out how left-handed batters, pitchers, and more have an edge against their right-handed competitors below.

1. Left-handed pitchers have a better view of first base.

Since a left-handed pitcher faces first base when he’s gearing up to pitch, he can easily see if a first base runner is leading off (i.e. taking a few steps off the bag, with the intention to steal second base). This makes for some pretty spectacular fake-outs where a pitcher will feign throwing a pitch and instead flip it to the first baseman, who can tag the runner out before he can get a foot (or finger) back on the bag.

2. Left-handed batters are closer to first base.

Left-handed batters are simply standing a little closer to first base than right-handed batters. As former MLB player Doug Bernier explained for Pro Baseball Insider, an extra step or so can be the difference between getting thrown out at first base or making it safely there, especially if it’s an infield hit. That said, not everyone agrees the slightly shorter distance to first base is enough to give left-handed batters an advantage on infield hits in general. In a 2007 article for The Hardball Times, John Walsh argued that since lefties hit more ground balls into the right half of the infield—giving first and second basemen a shorter distance to cover to make the out at first—their one-step head start isn’t statistically significant overall.

3. Left-handed batters’ momentum is already carrying them in the direction of first base.

Even if a shorter distance to first base isn’t enough to give a left-handed batter the edge on every occasion, he also has the laws of physics on his side. When a lefty swings, the momentum of the bat is moving to the right—i.e. toward first base—so he gets to run in the same direction he’s already moving. Righties, on the other hand, swing toward third base and have to break the momentum to sprint in the opposite direction. Dr. David A. Peters, a professor of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (and baseball aficionado), calculated that lefties’ momentum means they’re able to travel to first base about one-sixth of a second faster than righties.

4. Left-handed first basemen are facing the right direction to throw the ball to another infielder.

If the ball is hit to a left-handed first baseman, he’s already in the ideal position—with his right foot closest to his target—to throw it just about anywhere else in the infield. This is especially helpful when there’s an opportunity to make an out at second or third base, which he’d usually prioritize over the first base out. A right-handed first baseman, on the other hand, might have to pivot as much as 180 degrees to get his left foot where it needs to be to throw it to another infielder.

5. Left-handed batters perform better against right-handed pitchers, which are more abundant.

In baseball, it’s generally agreed that batters fare better when hitting against opposite-handed (OH) pitchers, so much so that coaches sometimes stack their batting lineups with lefties when they know a righty will be pitching, and vice versa. “With the dominance of right-handed pitchers in the game,” Dan Peterson writes for gameSense Sports, “the left-handed hitter comes to the plate with a built-in advantage.” The advantage itself has to do with the direction of the pitches.

“With a right-handed release to a right-handed batter, the ball seems to be coming right at him,” Peterson explains. “The same pitch coming from the opposite side provides a better view across the body.”

6. Right field is shorter than left field in some parks.

detroit tigers comerica park aerial view
An aerial view of the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When professional baseball stadiums first started cropping up in the late 19th century, there wasn’t a league-wide set of dimensions to standardize their size and shape (in fact, for the most part, there still isn’t). Since the majority of batters were right-handed—and, as such, more likely to hit the ball into left field—some stadiums featured left fields that were significantly deeper than their right fields. Take Philadelphia’s Columbia Park II, which opened in 1901 with a 340-foot left field and a 280-foot right field. Those short right fields meant left-handed batters would have an easier time hitting home runs. While most modern stadiums have quite literally evened the playing field with more symmetrical dimensions, some of them still have discrepancies; the right field foul pole at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park, for example, is a whole 15 feet closer to home plate than its left field foul pole.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER