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)

When Disco Demolition Night Nearly Demolished Chicago's Comiskey Park

The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube

Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec was warming up on the mound when he noticed the rush of people on the field. Preparing for a second game in a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, the White Sox had lost the first by a score of 4-1. The crowd had been rowdy and insolent throughout, but this was something else.

As Kravec stood on the mound, thousands of attendees descended from the bleachers and slid down poles marking foul ball territory. They dug up dirt in the field and began running off with bases. A few tried removing home plate. Kravec soon joined his teammates in the dugout, where both the White Sox and the Tigers were staring in disbelief at the mayhem.

The source of their unrest was happening in center field. It was a bonfire made up of thousands of records, mostly disco, that the team had invited fans to bring with them for a reduced admission price. Management had expected perhaps 35,000 people. Nearly 50,000 showed up. On July 12, 1979, Disco Demolition Night would go down as one of the most infamous evenings in the history of Major League Baseball. It was not only the destruction that stirred controversy, but the concern that the demonstration had a far more disturbing subtext.

 

In the mid- to late-1970s, attendance at many major league baseball stadiums was down. Teams around the country tried a variety of stunts to stir interest, including Cleveland’s notorious 10-cent beer night in 1974 that sparked a mountain of misbehavior. The White Sox were in particularly dire need of something to reinvigorate their franchise. In 1979, an average of just 10,000 to 16,000 people were coming to their games, though Comiskey Park could seat 45,000.

Team owner Bill Veeck tried to turn the games into a spectacle. There was a scoreboard that could set off pyrotechnics and other attention-grabbing additions, but nothing seemed to stick. The action on field was equally tepid. Midway through the season, the Sox held a disappointing 35-45 record.

A screen capture from footage of the Disco Demolition Night promotion at Comiskey Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 12, 1979 is pictured
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube

Veeck’s son, Mike Veeck, was assistant business manager for the team. Like many Chicago residents, he had heard local radio shock jock Steve Dahl on WLUP, an FM rock station serving the area. Dahl was prone to disparaging the then-popular genre of disco on air, playing records and then keying up an explosion sound effect. Dahl had lost his previous job on WDAI after it went all-disco, giving him an origin story of sorts for his contempt.

Dahl, of course, wasn’t entirely alone in his disco dismissal. A trendy and dance-friendly format, disco had been dominating airwaves and Billboard charts, with Donna Summer and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on heavy rotation and acts ranging from KISS to the Rolling Stones recording disco singles. Even 1977’s Star Wars scored a hit with a disco tie-in album. In the first half of 1979, 13 of the top 16 tracks were disco. Rock enthusiasts like Dahl thought the genre was inferior to their preferences and decried its widespread success.

Though Veeck had no particular opinion about disco, he saw an opportunity to partner with Dahl for a stunt. At Comiskey Park, attendees could get in for just 98 cents if they brought in one disco record for what was dubbed Disco Demolition Night. Once employees collected the records, Dahl would appear between the doubleheader with the Tigers and proceed to queue up an explosion.

Dahl agreed and promoted the appearance heavily on the air. The Veecks contacted Chicago police and asked for increased security as they expected up to triple their usual attendance as a result of the promotion—upwards of 35,000 people. With interest in the Sox low all season, it’s not clear that authorities took the request seriously.

They should have. Come July 12, people began lining up for the evening doubleheader as early as 4 p.m. A cursory glance at the crowd revealed that many of them were not baseball fans. There were a large number of teenagers as well as several attendees wearing concert T-shirts, a hint that the promotion had attracted people looking for a spectacle rather than a sporting event. Inside, many clung to their records instead of tossing them in the bins near the gates. As seats began filling up inside, thousands of people were armed with vinyl records. The scene had the makings of an active demonstration, not a passive entertainment.

As the White Sox and Tigers played their first game, spectators began tossing drinks and records onto the field. Chants of “disco sucks” filled the stadium. Firecrackers snapped in the air. When the game wrapped, Dahl emerged on the field in military fatigues, while a pile of disco records sat in center field. Inciting the crowd more, Dahl grabbed a microphone and let loose anti-disco invective before giving the signal to immolate the records. A fuse was lit and soon the pile was on fire.

Rather than pacify the crowd, the sight of the blaze seemed to embolden them. Kravec and the other players watched as people swarmed the field, sliding down poles and risking injury by jumping from the deck to the grass. Records were hurled, sticking into the ground. People tried to climb inside the skybox occupied by the wife and children of team manager Don Kessinger. Cherry bombs were ignited and exploded. The air took on a smoky atmosphere of flying projectiles, with an estimated 7000 people—almost the typical crowd of a regular season game—trampling the diamond.

Some players armed themselves with bats, their nearest available weapon. Announcer Harry Caray took to the public address system to call for order, which went ignored.

The crowd, however raucous, was largely nonviolent and no fights were reported. When police finally arrived 30 minutes later to restore order, 39 people were arrested for disorderly conduct. A vendor with a broken hip was the worst injury recorded. The main damage was to the field itself, which had been cratered by the explosion.

With no other alternative, the Sox were forced to forfeit the game, though the team wanted to call it a rain delay. The only rain had been from the beer bottles.

 

The official attendance was reported as 47,795, though Mike Veeck believed the crowd was as large as 60,000. Many had climbed over gates and overwhelmed ushers, crashing the stadium and getting in without paying admission. Disco Demolition Night had quickly turned from a purportedly clever marketing idea to a nightmare. Dahl would later admit to being more than a little scared by the whole ordeal.

The forfeit was the first by a major league team in five years. Soon, Bill Veeck would be out as president, selling the team in 1981; Mike Veeck didn’t get another job in baseball for 10 years—both situations reportedly due in large part to the near-riot that had transpired. But that would not be the only fallout from the stunt.

A screen capture from footage of the Disco Demolition Night promotion at Comiskey Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 12, 1979 is pictured
The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, YouTube

As ushers admitted fans into the stadium, they noticed a number of the records being turned in were by black artists—not just disco, but soul, R&B, and other genres. Steve Wonder and Marvin Gaye were among the performers destined for the bonfire. Because disco was popular among minority groups including Latinos and the gay community, observers believed Dahl had stirred up something more sinister than a simple distaste for disco music.

“People started running up on me, yelling ‘Disco sucks!’ in my face, getting in my face, confronting me as a person that ‘represents’ disco, and there were thousands of people running around in this stadium buck wild,” Vince Lawrence, an usher at the stadium that night, told Yahoo! Entertainment in 2019. “I started going, ‘Wait a minute, why am I disco?’” Lawrence, who is black, was actually wearing a shirt endorsing Dahl’s radio station.

Later, Lawrence said he was surprised most of the media coverage had been about the damage done to the baseball field, not the undercurrent of the protest. “It was evident that it was seen as OK, because the next day it was in the paper everywhere, all over the news, but the biggest complaint about the issue was not, ‘Hey, why the heck is it OK to just actively destroy somebody’s culture?’ That wasn’t the story. The story was like, ‘Hey, the lawn on this baseball field got f***ed up.'"

In interviews, Dahl refuted any claims he had intended to stir up any racial animosity. He simply hated disco and decided to engage in the kind of promotional stunt common among disc jockeys at the time. But the controversy returned in summer 2019, when the White Sox offered a T-shirt “commemorating” the demolition stunt. The move was criticized for being in poor taste.

As a tool to diminish disco, Dahl and Veeck’s themed evening was somewhat successful. Radio stations took to playing less of it and record labels began to shy away from the genre, forcing it underground. Of course, it’s likely disco would have been a cultural fad regardless. But what is superficially an outrageous story about a sporting stunt gone awry has also been looked at as a rejection of what disco represented: a diversity in tastes and spirit. It's for that reason Disco Demolition Night remains an infamous black eye in baseball history.

The Secret Basketball Court Hidden Inside Disneyland's Matterhorn Mountain

Emily Burnett, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Emily Burnett, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is full of surprise details if you know where to look. Many Easter Eggs—like hidden Mickeys and Morse code messages from Walt—are common knowledge among fans, but one secret spot beneath Matterhorn Mountain is off-limits to guests. As Travel + Leisure reports, a new docuseries called The Imagineering Story, streaming on Disney+, offers the public a rare look at the basketball court tucked inside the park's iconic coaster.

Open since 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds takes guests on a thrilling adventure through a snowy peak modeled after the landmark in the Alps. From the outside, the roller coaster could be mistaken for a real mountain, but the "backstage area" beneath the facade looks a lot less magical. With space to spare, Disney employees set up a half-court with one basketball hoop in the structure's pinnacle.

In the first episode of The Imagineering Story, Disney Imagineer (one of the attraction designers) Bob Gurr gives viewers a tour of the mountain's interior—including its famous basketball court. According to Gurr, the court has long been a place for Disneyland Cast Members working on the ride to unwind on their breaks. Some parts of the rumor have been fabricated—the space isn't a regulation-size court, and it wasn't installed to cheat building ordinances—but the Disneyland legend is based in truth.

The Imagineering Story offers behind-the-scenes looks at the making of Disney's iconic properties. In each episode, the Disney+ original series features footage from the parks' history and insightful interviews with Imagineers.

Disneyland isn't the only American institution with a secret basketball court. There's one on the fifth floor of United States Supreme Court Building, and it's naturally called "The Highest Court in the Land."

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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