A lot of people get anxious on Friday the 13th, in the same way they get anxious around black cats or freak out about a broken mirror. There’s even a name to describe this apprehension of the date: paraskevidekatriaphobia (but don’t ask me to pronounce that).
Anyone who’s ever watched Major League knows that baseball players can be particularly superstitious. And while most ballplayers likely are not offering tributes to a Voodoo shrine, major league players do find more subtle ways to try to draw good fortune to their performance.
Some of the most common rituals include kissing religious necklaces, making the sign of the cross, pointing towards the sky after a home run, eating a particular meal before a game, or even not grooming (or, perhaps, grooming a particular way) on game day. When a team is behind, the rally cap has become a popular way among players and fans both to try to help their team rally to victory.
During a winning streak, some players will refuse to wash their hats, helmets, or uniforms — and some fans will do the same. Some players will abstain from sex on game day, or, in the spirit of Bull Durham, during a winning streak. If a particular bat or glove is deemed “lucky,” it will become a popular item among the players of a team.
And, of course, if a no-hitter or a perfect game is in progress, nobody should ever, ever talk about it.
Wade Boggs was known as a particularly superstitious player, even nicknamed the “Chicken Man,” due to his routine of eating copious amounts of chicken every day. According to Boggs:
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.’
In addition, Boggs would write the Hebrew symbol for life, “Chai,” in the batter’s box before every at-bat, and he also made sure to take 117 ground balls (some places report the number was 150) during every practice. Something about Boggs’s routine definitely worked for him, considering his five batting titles, 12 All-Star Games, and induction into the Hall of Fame.
Other famous players with superstitious rituals included Joe DiMaggio, who would always run from the outfield and touch second base before going into the dugout. Pitcher Tim Wakefield would eat a pound of spaghetti before any game he started, and Justin Verlander is said to eat tacos before every start. Mark McGwire used to wear the same cup from his high school playing days — at least, until it was stolen.
There’s not much information specific to Friday the 13th superstitions among baseball players, but no doubt, they exist. When the upcoming date was brought up with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Thursday, May 12th, 2016, Mackanin responded, “I wish you didn’t tell me that.”
I played my best everyday. You never know when someone may be seeing you play for the first time.
This piece was published in 1942 and it references Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. In the novella, the main character, Santiago, idolizes DiMaggio and is a big Yankees fan. To Santiago, DiMaggio represents an ideal, and he compares himself against the ballplayer as a way to measure his own success and worth.
that wonderful slugger from Boston.
When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game.
Here’s an interesting, even amusing, ad that I stumbled across from the June 1940 issue of Popular Science. The ad features an image of Joe DiMaggio kissing a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, the bat itself bearing a replica of DiMaggio’s signature. The text in the ad reads:
“A ballplayer and his Louisville Slugger are like a man and his dog —INSEPARABLE PALS”— says Joe DiMaggio, Famous Yankee home run slugger and A.L. Champion last season.
Go to your dealer’s and look over the 1940 Genuine Autographed Louisville Sluggers. Your favorite ballplayer’s personally autographed bat is among them!
Free 1940 FAMOUS SLUGGER YEAR BOOK
from your dealer or send 5c in stamps or coin to Dept. Z-34
Hillerich & Bradsby Co., Louisville, Ky.
GENUINE Autographed LOUISVILLE SLUGGER BATS
Hillerich & Bradsby Co.
I hadn’t heard of Smash prior to discovering this tune, but from what I can tell, it was a television series in 2012-2013 about a group working to put on a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. This song was performed in the pilot episode of the series and, in the context of the musical, takes place when Joe DiMaggio sees Marilyn’s picture in a magazine and asks her out. Marilyn goes to the ball field to check things out and sings this bit with the New York Yankees.
Baseball isn’t just the stats. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of Willie Mays, or the determination of Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a (Al) Kaline or a (Joe) Morgan, the grace of a (Joe) DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig. My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost.
~George W. Bush
I really enjoy reading this poem. It talks about two Yankee greats, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, but even better than that, it talks about life and love. Baseball frequently serves as a metaphor for both, and Kittell really does hit it out of the park with this one.
On the scorecard you gave me, I find
the difficult scratchings, the notes and stats
you ask me to read looking
for something about success
Twenty-three times, Lou Gehrig
came to bat for the Yankees
with the bases loaded
and hit a grand slam.
Then I see you’ve added: Shouldn’t love
be that way? Shouldn’t love be
a grand slam every time?
Lou Gehrig played baseball
for seventeen years and everyone knows
he played in most every game. Everyone knows
he played only for the Yankees.
But up in the stands, maybe–like you–studying a program,
sat his wife, sat Eleanor
who watched Gehrig carefully enough
to see when his step
began to falter, to notice how
ground balls hit
him in the chest and his long-armed swing
barely dribbled out
a single. Eleanor Gehrig watched
the Iron Horse dwindle
to ninety pounds and never stopped to say:
“You’re not the man
you used to be,” never told him she saw
the end of the game.
I imagine she only held him
closer at night
and went on.
Joe DiMaggio reached the Show
two years before Lou Gehrig
left, two years before the Iron Horse began
to fade. And what you and I remember first
about Joe was his once
ridiculous coffee ad, or maybe his once
failed marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Just like
we never saw Gehrig play, we never saw
DiMaggio, every day of your life
and more, send roses to a grave, or imagined
her fingers dialing his number, her voice calling
Joe, Joe into the dead air. Joe,
she told him once, you’ve never heard
such cheering! Yes, I have, he said to her quietly.
Yes, I have.
My husband Ron was born in 1951 and 1951
was the last year DiMaggio played. By seventeen,
Ron was the best player in Idaho, the fastest
in the outfield, most solid at first base, and sometimes
wild but always hard
when he took the mound. But our life, it seems,
has turned far from glamorous. We take
our turns, Ron and I, in the stands. I watch him
with you, throwing rocks across a brook and know
the next day his arm
will throb from trying. He watches me
try to toss a good metaphor, one that will zing
and flash at your center. I say:
look deeper into the game, friend. I say:
look deeper into a life, a love.
To make anything last, there’s got to be more
than a grand slam.
There has to be a good coach
to draw the line-up and good men
already on base. There have to be players
in the minors and wives
in the stands. There has to be someone
to say that love
ain’t always perfect, that love
doesn’t always win the game, that love
might not be lots of cheering or a neatly blackened square
on a scorecard.
No, Sherman, love
might be quiet–a fire crackling, birds reappearing
on the edge of lawn, the center of you knowing
that once you slip it on and oil it up,
that old worn glove will feel
than when it was new.
I am honestly surprised that I haven’t posted this classic tune yet. Apparently, Joe DiMaggio was actually annoyed by the inclusion of his name in this song, until Paul Simon explained the meaning to him.
“I happened to be in a restaurant and there he was,” recalls Simon in the interview. “I gathered up my nerve to go over and introduce myself and say, ‘Hi, I’m the guy that wrote “Mrs. Robinson,” ’ and he said ‘Yeah, sit down . . . why’d you say that? I’m here, everyone knows I’m here.’ I said, ‘I don’t mean it that way — I mean, where are these great heroes now?’ He was flattered once he understood that it was meant to be flattering.”
The 1939 All-Star Game was held on July 11th at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where the American League defeated the National League, 3-1. Two of the three AL runs were driven in by Yankees players (the third was an unearned run scored on an error), including a DiMaggio home run. Indians pitcher Bob Feller, only twenty years old at the time, threw 3.2 scoreless innings to earn the save.
The box score for the game can be found here.