“It’s Strange how these Stars of Balldom have such Beliefs”

27 Aug

Throughout his career as an American League umpire, Billy Evans, who had covered baseball for The Youngstown Vindicator continued to write syndicated newspaper articles.  He was fascinated by the superstitions that controlled the actions of so many players.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

He followed a 1907 article about the subject, with more stories the following year:

“Of all professions, that of baseball player is the most superstitious…Of course, there are many superstitions in common, yet most of the players have pet ideas of their own on which they place much reliance.  The data of origin of many of the superstitions is a deep, dark mystery.”

Evans said:

“There is certainly nothing out of the ordinary to be seen in a load of hay, yet most players welcome the sight of one during the playing season.  In the dictionary of baseball a load of hay signifies two hits that afternoon for the discoverer, and history tells us there is nothing dearer to a player’s heart than base hits…While its supposed strange magic often fails, still the players retain faith in it.  On the other hand, the sight of a load of empty barrels is always dreaded, for some it means a shutout, to others merely defeat.”

Of one popular superstition of the time, Evans said there was “no greater believer in shaking up the bats when a rally is on” than Cleveland Naps pitcher Charles “Heinie” Berger:

“Ordinarily a team keeps its bats lined up in front of the bench in a fairly tidy manner.  According to Heinie’s code that is all well and good when everything is moving along smoothly, but when a rally appears to be in the air, the proper way to encourage it, according to Berger, is to scatter the bats in every direction.”

Heinie Berger

Heinie Berger

Evans told the story of the Naps’ August 21, 1908, game, although some of the details regarding the scoring wrong, he got most of the facts correct:

“One day last summer during an important game at Philadelphia, the Athletics got away with a seven-run lead in the first two innings.  When they added another in the third, it certainly looked as if things were all off so far as Cleveland was concerned.  Until the seventh inning the Naps bench was not unlike a funeral.  Two runs in the seventh stirred up a little hope, and caused Heinie to heave a few big sticks in different directions.  His actions caused Umpire Jack Sheridan (Sheridan and Evans both worked the game, Sheridan was behind the plate) was to offer a mild rebuke and incidentally warn Heinie that he wanted nothing but silence during the rest of the afternoon.”

Cleveland scored two runs the following inning, and had the tying run on base:

“Heinie proceeded to scatter the two dozen or more bats in all directions.  That was too much for the veteran Sheridan, and after he had made Berger replace all the bats back in a straight line, he tied a can on the Teuton and chased him from the lot.

“Berger viewed the remainder of the game from the bleachers, failing to carry out completely the edict of the umpire.  When the Naps scored the two men on the sacks and tied up the game he was happy.  Heinie was confident that the bat superstition had aided in the victory that he was sure would result, now that the score was tied.  When the Athletics scored a run in the eighth that proved to be the winner his confidence in the theory was not shaken in the least. He blamed the defeat on Sheridan, claiming that as soon as the umpire ejected him from the game the spell was broken.”

Evans also wrote about his favorite superstitious player, “Wild Bill” Donovan, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.  Evans had previously mentioned Donovan’s fear of throwing a shutout during his first start of each season, and his actions in one game in particular, but now gave a more detailed account:

“It all seems rather foolish, yet I have worked back of Donovan on two such occasions and have every reason to believe that Bill makes it possible for his opponents to score.  In one of the games Detroit had the affair clinched 8 to 0 in the eighth.  With one down and a man on second Charley Hickman stepped to the plate.  A straight fast one is the most delicious kind of dessert for Charley, although he likes almost any old thing in the shape of curves and slants.

“There is no more strategic pitcher in the league than Donovan, yet he started off the reel to hand them up to Hick’s liking.  After fouling off three, Hick met a fast one on the nose and was blowing hard at third by the time the ball was relayed back to the infield.  He scored a moment later, but Detroit too the game easily, 8 to 2.  Bill had escaped the much despised shutout.  By the way that year was the most successful of Donovan’s career, and, of course, merely served to strengthen his belief.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Again, Evans got nearly all the details correct—except the final score was 9 to 2.  The May 24, 1907, game was Donovan’s first start of his best season in baseball (25-4, 2.19 ERA for the American League Pennant winners), and he did lose a shutout to Washington in the eighth inning on a Hickman triple.

Evans said a superstition often attributed to Cy Young, was not a superstition at all:

“The veteran Cy Young, the grand old man of them all, is one of the few players who doesn’t take much stock in omens of good or bad luck.  Cy, however, has one big hobby.  He always prefers to pitch on dark days…The dark day idea is no superstition with Cy.  No one except the batters perhaps realizes how hard it is to hit his fast ball when the light is dim.  It is really a pleasure for him to work out of turn on such days, for he knows what a big handicap he has over his opponents.”

Evans said another Hall of Fame pitcher had a bizarre habit, that while perhaps not a superstition, bears mentioning:

Jack Chesbro, the famous spitter, is always of the opinion that someone is slipping a doctored ball over on him, and quite often asks for a new one when the cover doesn’t taste just right.”

The umpire concluded:

“It’s strange how these stars of balldom have such beliefs and stick to them, but they do.  The ball player lives in a world of his own, more than any other profession with the possible exception of the actors.”

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2 Responses to ““It’s Strange how these Stars of Balldom have such Beliefs””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “I am, I Believe, more Iinclined to fear the Jinx” | Baseball History Daily - April 12, 2015

    […] of fourteen straight victories (In 1909 Reulbach tied the record set in 1904 by Joe McGinnity and Jack Chesbro). He wanted Reulbach’s cap, the one he had worn during all those games, but Ed refused to part […]

  2. “Honest John” Anderson’s Swing | Baseball History Daily - June 29, 2015

    […] claims to have discovered a way to swat the ball that will fool the fielders just as effectively as (Jack) Chesbro deceives the batters with his […]

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