“Perhaps the most Superstitious Class of People”

31 Jan

In 1886 The San Francisco Chronicle said of contemporary baseball players:

“With all the enlightenment of civilization superstition still holds potent sway.  Perhaps the most superstitious class of people to be met today in the United States, aside from gamblers and actors, are baseball players and worshipers of the game, whose faith in “mascots” and jonahs” as influences for good or bad luck is almost if not fully as strong as their belief in religion itself.”

Jim Hart, in San Francisco with his Louisville Colonels, told the paper about some of the specific superstitions which influenced the 19th Century ballplayer:

“The St. Louis Browns have their club house at home just off from right field, and whenever the bell rings for the practice preceding each game the whole nine form into line in front of their house and then walk abreast to first base, where they disperse and take their positions.  This is invariably done under the belief that it insures good luck.  Bill Gleason too, the famous shortstop, always walks astride of the foul chalk line to third base before going to his place on the diamond.  He has never once failed to do it in the whole five years he has been playing baseball.”

Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason

“Why there’s (Albert “Doc”) Bushong, the catcher of the St. Louis Browns.  He’s got a pair of gloves that are so dilapidated that even the patches are patched.  He wouldn’t part with those gloves, though, for a ten-acre lot.  He thinks as mascots they are infallible.  (Walter Henry) Porter, the pitcher of the Brooklyns , also has a red sleeveless jacket  or shirt which he has worn regularly for more than two years.  It doesn’t match the uniform of the club, but he wears it anyhow, for he sincerely believes that if he laid the shirt aside the game would be lost.

“(Pete) Browning, our center fielder and the crack batter in the league, is the greatest fanatic on mascots, I reckon, of anybody in the business.  He did not come out with us this time.  He got out of whack during the summer and I sent him to the springs to recuperate.  He returned home before we came out here, but I thought it best to leave him behind.  Well, Browning has a practice of always walking over and touching one foot on third bag when going from field to bat, or vice versa.  A stack of twenties as high as that house wouldn’t be inducement enough for Browning to refrain from carrying out this program every time he plays, he’s got so much faith in it, you know.  To show you how earnest he is in this respect, I’ll relate a short anecdote about him which occurred last summer.  It may amuse you.  Browning has a pretty good idea of himself as a ballplayer, and it rather hurt him to be sent off from us, even if it was to the springs” (Browning was in such poor physical condition in July of 1886—The Cincinnati Enquirer said “it is doubtful if he appears on the diamond again.”– that he was sent to the springs in French Lick, Indiana for a month).

Hart said the rest of the Louisville team let Browning know they did just fine without him in the lineup, including their best road trip of the season, when they won 8 of 12 games:

“The rest of the boys naturally joshed him a good deal about it, and gleefully referred to their splendid record while he was away. ’Yes,’ replied Browning, driven to desperation, ‘but I was touching third bag every day, or you couldn’t have done it.’  It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  It’s true, nevertheless, for I found out afterwards that he had marked out a diamond just back of the hotel at the springs, and on the days that we were booked to play he would go out to his field and soberly go through his regular ceremony of touching third bag.”

Pete Browning

Pete Browning

Hart claimed he was an exception, “I’m not very superstitious,” he said, but he conceded “I hear and see so much of these things that hang me if I don’t almost believe in them myself sometimes.”   As an example, he told the story of arriving at the ballpark during a losing streak:

“I went into the club-room with a new white plug hat on my head.  Everybody jumped up at once and shouted, ‘A mascot! A mascot! Our luck will change now, sure.’ We did meet with rather better success after that, and the hat naturally got the credit for it.  Four or five weeks later I exchanged my white hat for a black mackinaw, and, my Lord! You should have heard those fellows kick.  They said I was a jonah and we’d lose the next game, and by thunder, we did, too.”

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2 Responses to ““Perhaps the most Superstitious Class of People””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “The Game was not Exactly ‘on the square’” | Baseball History Daily - March 21, 2014

    […] the 1886 season Jim Hart brought a team composed of members of his Louisville Colonels and other American Association […]

  2. Hugh Nicol | Baseball History Daily - August 25, 2014

    […] it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, […]

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