Mark Fidrych of the Detroit Lions

The Bird used to talk to the ball and groom the mound on his hands and knees.

The Boston Red Sox are faltering again, with the New York Yankees winning three out of four games this past weekend, but I would still rather watch the Red Sox loose than watch the morning newscasts. I DVR the games and watch them in the morning as I am an advocate of early to bed and early to rise.

In baseball, the players seem to go through repetitive antics on the field more so than players in other sports, especially before stepping into the batters box or before throwing a pitch. This ritualistic behavior is supposed to bring them luck and enable them to hit the ball or to throw an unhittable pitch. This behavior is due to the fact that baseballers are a very superstitious lot and will do almost anything to gain a competitive edge, whether it seems silly or not. Batters in the Major League Baseball seldom have a batting average over .300, so no matter what foofaraw a hitter goes through before he steps up to the plate, he is going to fail seventy percent of the time, if not more.

Mark Hargrove, who played from 1974-1985, had a particularly long routine before stepping into the batters box, which was so aggravating that his nickname was the “Human Rain Delay”. His major league career hitting average was .290. I suspect part of the reason for his repetitious repertoire was to annoy the opposing pitcher, therefore gaining a psychological edge.

Sometimes players and managers will even disregard personal hygiene or laundry schedules, to hopefully, extend a winning streak. Certain players might not wash or change their socks or other articles of clothing fearing that their luck will change. Manager Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers wore the same boxers whenever the Tigers were on a winning streak and even went so far as to not wash them, fretful that he would launder out the mojo out of them. Depending on the length of the winning streak, the atmosphere in the dugout might become a might odiferous and distracting. If I played for Mr. Leyland I perhaps, could consider helping to throw a game just to get him to change his dead and dying undies.

One of the most outlandish displays of behavior on the baseball diamond, was routinely performed by Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers 1976-1980, nicknamed after Big Bird of Sesame Street fame, because he was tall and lanky, with a shock of curly red locks, resembling the puppet creature. Fidrych would often get on his hands and knees, while in uniform, during a game and groom the pitchers mound. He was also known to hold the baseball in his hand in front of his face and talk to the ball, hopefully he didn’t hear it talking back to him.

Max Scherzer, nicknamed “Old Blue Eye”, because of the fact that he has one blue eye and one brown eye, currently pitches for the Washing Nationals. Scherzer is so superstitious that he won’t even tell anyone what his superstitions are.

Jason “Giambino” Giambi, played in the majors for 19 years and hit for an average of .277 with 440 home runs His nickname is a reference to another Yankee player, the “Great Bambino”, Babe Ruth. Whenever Giambi went into a hitting slump he would don a gold thong as a slump buster. I am surprised that he didn’t receive a different moniker other than “Giambino.” Probably the fact that he stood six-feet-three-inches tall and weighed in at 240 pounds hindered his getting tagged with some other nickname. I know I could come up with a few, after all he did play for the dreaded Yankees.

One of the most superstitious players in the history of baseball was Steve “Turk” Wendell who played for four National League teams from 1993-2004. His career statistics were 36 wins and 33 loses. I would have thought that someone as overtly superstitious as Turk Wendell would have had a better winning percentage, but apparently he thought that his foibles were beneficial. He felt that the number nine was a lucky for him so he always wore a ninety nine on the back of his jersey. He signed a contract with the N.Y. Mets in 2000 for $9,999,999.99. Whenever he went onto the field he would jump over the foul line with a leap so high that he wouldn’t even touch the dirt on the base path, and would do the same as he exited the field. Many ballplayers make an effort not to step on the foul chalk line when crossing it but Turk took this ritual to new heights. When he entered the game he always made sure that he would have four pieces of licorice in his mouth. After he pitched an inning and went back to the dugout he would brush he teeth so that they wouldn’t turn black from the licorice. Unlike some other major leaguers, he at least practiced good hygiene.

Another quirk with baseball players is the fact that if their starting pitcher is throwing a no hitter, none of his team mates in the dugout will mention the words no hitter or even sit near the thus far successful hurler. They feel that to do so would jinx the pitcher which would destroy the “magic” that he is experiencing. A no hitter has rarely happened in the history of baseball, happening at the rate of only about two a year since the advent of the game in 1876, so the efforts of the superstitious players seldom have a positive effect, but still they persist, even in this age of scientific discovery.

Jinx is an interesting word which refers to a bird in England known as a wryneck, a woodpecker like bird, who if it pecks on your house is supposed to bring the occupants bad luck. Realistically, if a woodpecker is tapping on your abode it probably means that there are bugs living in the woodwork of your house, and that the bird is sending you a message, hire an exterminator.

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