On Friday the 13th, celebrate five of the most superstitious players in baseball history
A version of this post originally ran Friday, Feb. 13, 2016.
Superstitious or not, every Friday the 13th, we're probably all a little wary of any black cat that decides to cross our path.
Naturally, though, if you want to know more about the holiday, Vin Scully will break it down for you:
And while most people probably look at Friday the 13th as a silly superstition, don't say that to a ballplayer. After all, since the game of baseball began there have been bizarre tricks and routines players have been obsessively following in hopes of gaining an edge. Jack Glasscock, who played from 1879 to 1895, was nicknamed "Pebbly" for his habit of fastidiously inspecting the infield dirt.
Jim Leyland famously refused to change his underwear during a Tigers winning streak in 2011.
Mike Hargrove became known as the Human Rain Delay for his intricate pre at-bat routine:
Richie Ashburn would sleep with his bat during a hot streak, while
But while the utility of each of those beliefs is suspect, they still have nothing on these five truly superstitious Major Leaguers:
How Rhomberg ever appeared in 41 Major League games is a mystery. Not only would Rhomberg refuse to make right-handed turns because there are no right-handed turns on a baseball field, but should someone ever touch him, he would have to touch them back. It's how he earned the nickname "Touch Me, Touch Me" from teammate Mike Hargrove.
It wouldn't end there though. Once others learned of his superstition, they were relentless:
Rick Sutcliffe once reached under a bathroom stall to touch Rhomberg on the toe. Not knowing whom the culprit was, Rhomberg went around the clubhouse and touched each player. Brook Jacoby once told of tagging Rhomberg with a ball in the minors, then throwing it out of the stadium. Jacoby said that Rhomberg spent two hours looking for the ball before finding it. An umpire once halted play during a game in New York to tell Yankees players to stop touching Rhomberg.
Rohn and Rhomberg were teammates in Venezuela for winter ball, and Rohn touched him one night, then ran off to the clubhouse to hide after his last at-bat.
"He looked for me for two hours," Rohn recalled. "I was hiding under desks, in the shower, the bathroom. He couldn't find me."
Of course, despite all this, Rhomberg was pretty successful at the plate. In 47 career at-bats, the left fielder hit .383/.423/.447.
No one represents superstition to fans quite like Fidrych. Coming up with the Tigers at the age of 21 with a lean, wiry body and long, wild hair that led to his nickname "Bird," Fidrych looked the part of the quirky Major Leaguer. And he lived up to it.
While capturing the attention of baseball fans everywhere during a rookie campaign that saw him lead the league in ERA and shutouts (with a shocking 24), collecting the Rookie of the Year Award along the way, Fidrych also fascinated people with his on-field habits. He would smooth over the cleat marks on the mound, talk to the ball and ask the umpire for a new baseball after every hit.
The starter explained:
"That ball has a hit in it. I want that ball to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls. I want him to talk to the other balls. I want the other balls to beat him up. Maybe that'll smarten him up so when he comes out the next time, he'll pop up."
Fidrych would also shake the hands of every teammate and umpire following his start, just as he did after his nationally televised outing against the Yankees on June 28, 1976:
Unfortunately, injuries would spell doom for Fidrych. After pitching 250 1/3 innings in 1976, the Bird would throw only 162 more over parts of the next four seasons.
The man who will happily dress like he's in Dumb and Dumber
And grow the wispiest mustache this side of Snoopy's brother Spike:
Is also a man with quite a few superstitions. Though he no longer drops $30 on fast food on the night before his starts, he does have a few other rituals. Namely:
"Every night before I pitch, I have to play Nintendo hockey. Every night before I pitch, I have to watch the movie 'For The Love Of The Game,' the Kevin Costner movie. I watch the same part every time but never the whole movie. I've never seen the whole movie, and I never will until I retire. People tell me how it ends, but I don't care. I won't watch it until I retire. But I have to watch it every night before I pitch. It's what helps get me ready to pitch."
Honestly, out of all the superstitions on this list, these sound like the most fun.
While plenty of ballplayers have a favorite meal they like to have before a game, with
As for how he got his start:
"It started in '77. I had a Minor League budget and a growing family to feed. Chicken was cheap and I really felt better eating lighter food rather than a lot of heavy meat and gravy. Then I noticed my batting average going up. Ever since I've been a `chicketarian.'"
It even led to Boggs getting his own chicken recipe book, "Fowl Tips," which is sadly and shockingly out of print.
But Boggs' routine didn't end there. He would write the Hebrew symbol for life, "Chai," in the batter's box before every at-bat and made sure to take 117 ground balls during every infield practice. Which, hey, that strict regimen lead to five batting titles, 12 All-Star Games and a Hall of Fame plaque, so perhaps we should all start eating chicken.
Of course, like Candyland, this list leads only one place: Turk Wendell. With the amount of free time that relievers have to develop new and ever-stranger habits, it's odd that there aren't more pitchers like him.
During an 11-year career with the Cubs, Mets, Phillies and Rockies, Wendell was known for:
- Not just stepping over the foul lines, but leaping them.
- Wearing a necklace featuring the teeth from animals he had hunted.
- Never wearing socks. Because they were a waste of money.
- Chewing licorice on the mound.
- Brushing his teeth in the dugout between innings. (Which, given all the licorice, was probably a good idea.)
- Signing a contract with the Mets worth a total of $9,999,999.99 in honor of his number: 99.
Of course, it turns out that the real secret to Wendell's success wasn't any of this. It was honey.