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.”
On April 6, 1971 at San Diego Stadium (later known as Jack Murphy Stadium), Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants hit a home run in the first inning off Tom Phoebus of the Padres on Opening Day. This blast marked the beginning of an historic streak in which Mays hit home runs in each of the Giants’ first four games, setting a major league record. The record would later be tied by Mark McGwire (1998), Nelson Cruz (2011), and Chris Davis (2013).
He hits my changeup. He hits my curveball. He hits my slider. I’ve run out of pitches to throw him. I just try to pick the spots where he’s going to hit his homeruns.
~Brian Bohanon, on Mark McGwire
That moment, when you first lay eyes on that field — The Monster, the triangle, the scoreboard, the light tower Big Mac bashed, the left-field grass where Ted (Williams) once roamed — it all defines to me why baseball is such a magical game.
Here’s an infographic by Craig Robinson plotting out the day-by-day progress of the three main contenders in the 1998 home run chase. I had completely forgotten that Ken Griffey, Jr. was a part of this race in the beginning. He ended the season in pretty great shape, even if he didn’t pass Maris’s mark.
Click on the image for a larger view.
On 15 August 1990, Oakland’s Mark McGwire hits a game-winning grand slam as the A’s are victorious over the Red Sox, 6-2 in ten innings. In doing so, McGwire becomes the first player to hit at least thirty home runs in each of his first four Major League seasons.