Tag Archives: superstitions

“But, no Freakish Balls”

20 Jun

After Smokey Joe Williams struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs in a 12-inning one-hit shutout in Kansas City in August of 1930, Paul A.R. Kurtz of The Pittsburgh Press wrote about meeting Williams in the Grays dugout when the two teams played at Forbes Field two weeks earlier:

smokeyjoe

Smokey Joe Williams

“Personal experience recently revealed to me the superstition existing in baseball.

“I know big league players want bats scattered when they’re not hitting; others touch bases or gloves on the way to the bench during innings and do numerous other unusual things.  But my own failing for peanuts brought me an interesting interview.”

Kurtz said he bought peanuts from a vendor when he arrived at Forbes Field:

“While a few Grays were practicing, I wandered to the Homestead bench to be greeted by Smokey Joe Williams, the veteran Gray twirler, who noticed the hard-shelled peanuts.”

Williams asked:

“’Do you know peanuts are barred from our bench?’ Joe asked.  I inquired, ‘how come?’

“’I don’t like them around and have made my mates understand that.  They try to tease me by eating some once in awhile.  I always feel I’m losing when I hear the cracking of shells.”

Williams said:

“That’s my only superstitious feeling in baseball.”

Kurtz said he was concerned he contributed to Williams losing for the first time that season:

“Joe didn’t like peanuts. I had them in my hands.  Joe was starting pitcher.  He had won 23 games without a defeat until the Monarchs beat him with a rally that particular night.”

Williams, with the help of Grays shortstop Jake Stephens–who made three errors in the game, two of them in the ninth–blew a 4 to 3 lead in the ninth when the Monarchs scored five runs to beat the Grays 8 to 4 in the second night game ever played in Forbes Field:

“Was I the cause of Joe’s downfall? Those peanuts may have preyed on his mind and by mental telepathy Stephens foozled a few swats to help the monarchs halt Williams’ winning streak.”

Generally listed at 6’ 3” or 6’ 4” and 190 pounds, Williams told the the reporter he was 6’2” and weighed 224 pounds, but said he loses “nearly 30 pounds during a summer.”

Williams said:

“’I have no trouble keeping in shape. I take good care of myself, sleep long and eat carefully.  I tried to throw a spitball once, but it jerked my arm and so I cut it.  Control and plenty of motion are my bets.  I have practiced hard to master control to place the ball just where I want it on a batter.  Low knee fast pitches, inside and outside, are my favorites.  But, no freakish balls.  I am better with control than those who try an assortment of twisters.”

Williams told Kurtz about the biggest regrets of his career:

“Although Joe has marvelous control of his fast pitches, he talked regretfully of three boys who he hurt badly.  One lad in Texas became demented after being hit and another had all his teeth knocked out. In Coal City (Pennsylvania) Joe dented a player’s skull, leaving the imprint of the ball on his forehead.”

Williams told Kurtz that he had, for years, kept “a big scrapbook…It contained all accounts of his baseball life.”  The book, “which Williams prized highly,” was stolen:

“Since it disappeared Joe has not been as interested in recording his accomplishments. ‘How I’d like to get that book back,’ he said.”

He then went out and took his first loss of the 1930 season.

“I am, I Believe, more Inclined to fear the Jinx”

12 Apr

In 1910, Johnny Evers “wrote” an article in “Baseball Magazine” about superstitions:

“’On the Cubs’ team, for instance, I am, I believe, more inclined to fear the jinx than any other member of the club.  In batting practice before the game the general belief is that if you are not hitting the ball hard or up in the air you will bat well in the game ofttimes as a result. In many cases I have seen a player hit two or three balls hard and on the line and then go to the bench and refuse to bat anymore, saying, ‘I’m saving mine for the game.’”

Johnny Evers

Johnny Evers

Some of Evers’ other superstitions:

“Going to the different parks in the cars the sight of a funeral along the road is regarded as an ill omen.  The same applies to a (handicapped person) unless you toss him a coin.  A wagon load of barrels is a good sing.  Frequently a man, having gone a mile out of the way to purchase something on a day when his club happened to win, will continue to travel the roundabout pathway so long as the club is in that particular city or until his teammates lose.”

As for superstitions during a game:

“Watch a man when the inning is over.  If the inning previous was favorable to a player, observe him go over and be particular to locate the same spot to lay down his glove.  You doubtless have often seen a player attired in a soiled and far from presentable uniform.  Beneath all that lurks our old friend the jinx.  The player will stick to the dirty garments so long as his team is winning.  When the streak is broken the laundryman gets a chance at his clothing, but not before.”

[…]

“Not for the world could you induce the average major league pitcher to resume work with a new shoe lace.  He will tie up the remnants and go ahead, hoping to make the laces last throughout the session.  The players don’t want the bat boys to hand them their clubs either.  On our home grounds of course, Red Gallagher, the bat boy, has a sort of standing job swinging the sticks, but he always tries hard to drive away the hoodoo.  Watch him salivate the handle of every bat before it goes in the hands of its owner.”

In addition to bat boy spit, Evers said there were other superstitions among the Cubs:

“Keep your eyes glued on Tinker when he goes to bat.  Joe has a habit of walking straight from the bench to the plate to the plate for the first time up.  If he gets a clean hit that time he’ll repeat in the second trip, but if he fans or fouls out or is tossed o death on an infield drive Tinker certainly will waltz out in a circle, going back to the plate.  This is the way he hopes to break the hoodoo.”

Joe Tinker

Joe Tinker

[…]

“Recall how Manager (Frank) Chance refused to have the Cubs pose for a team picture during the closing days of the League race in 1908.  He was especially fearful that the photographer might work a jinx on the players and jeopardize our chances of beating Detroit.    (Ed) Reulbach is a mighty superstitious chap.  I remember how one of Ed’s friends approached him when the big pitcher was mowing them down for his record 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 with the headgear.

Yes, the ballplayer is to be listed only with the actor or the sailor when it comes to the superstitious phase of life.”

“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.”

More Superstitions

25 Apr

Billy Evans, “The Boy Umpire,” joined the American League staff at the age of 22.  Before becoming an umpire, Evans was a reporter for The Youngstown Vindicator and continued to write occasional, syndicated newspaper articles throughout his career.

Billy Evans

Billy Evans

In a 1907 article he wrote about superstitions:

“Baseball players are the most superstitious class of people in the world.  There are many superstitions in general in which all members of the profession have implicit confidence and nearly every player has some pet belief that is all his own.”

Evans mentioned one of the most superstitious players of all-time, Detroit Tigers pitcher “Wild Bill” Donovan, who as mentioned in an earlier post, believed that striking out the first batter he faced was bad luck.  According to Evans he also had a strange belief about the first game of the season:

“Donovan has a dread of working in shutout games on his first appearance.  He believes it a season hoodoo and would do almost anything to prevent it.”

Evans worked as an umpire in Donovan’s first start of the 1907 season, and the pitcher took a shutout into the ninth inning:

“I happened to be working back of Donovan that day and noticed that he seemed to let up in the ninth , also that he used nothing but a straight fast ball.  A pass, an error and a cracking hit by Charley Hickman sent a couple of tallies over the pan.”

Evans said he asked Donovan after the game if he “(lost his stuff,” in the ninth, Donovan said no:

“I have no desire to win a shutout game right off the reel…shutouts on your debut are not lucky.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Evans said Fred “Lucky” Glade, a St. Louis Browns pitcher who had just been traded to the New York Highlanders, had a phobia of pitching if the sun wasn’t out:

 “According to Glade, he has never during his career won a game on a dark day.”

The pitcher also “started each inning…by tossing a ball to (Browns first baseman) Tom Jones.  Next year he will have to use (Highlanders first baseman) Hal Chase

Chase must not have been an adequate substitute; Glade struggled with arm and stomach problems, posted an 0-4 record in five starts for the Highlanders, before returning home to Nebraska in June.  He signed a contract for 1909, but never reported and never pitched again.

Fred Glade

Fred Glade

Ty Cobb had numerous superstitions; one had to do with the “position of the broom with which the umpires use to dust off the plate.”  Evans said:

“The umpires find it handy to keep the broom to the left of the plate, while Cobb, when at the bat, always desires it to the right.  Whenever he steps to the plate Cobb always picks up the broom and tosses it to the right side of the batter’s box.”

Additionally:

“When in a batting slump Cobb always makes three crosses as he takes his position at the plate.  When Cobb reaches first base on his journey from right field to the bench he always gives the bag a terrific kick in the direction of the plate…Cobb insists that the short distance he moves the bag toward the plate with his kick often is the means of winning a close decision at first for his team.’

Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb

Evans said of superstitions in baseball:

“No doubt a close investigation would reveal that every player from the smallest bush league up has his pet theory.”

Superstitions and Eccentricities

19 Mar

A 1912 wire service article that appeared in The Lexington Herald revealed some of the “superstitions” and “eccentricities” of several ballplayers:

Nap Lajoie always draws a line in the dirt in the batter’s box before taking his position.  He will not face the batter without this preliminary.”

Napoleon Lajoie

Napoleon Lajoie

Bill Donovan dislikes to strike out the first batter.  He believes it the forerunner to bad luck.”

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan

Barney Pelty must throw a curve ball just before starting to pitch.  His last to the catcher when warming up between innings is always a curve.”

Barney Pelty

Barney Pelty

Rube Oldring insists on the little mascot of the Athletics standing in a certain place when he is at bat.”

Rube Oldring

Rube Oldring

Heinie Peitz, when manager of the (Louisville) Colonels, was averse to having any pictures taken of his team.  He believed it hoodooed the game.”

Heinie Peitz

Heinie Peitz

Rabbit Robinson never touches the plate with his bat, but he says he is not superstitious.”

William Clyde "Rabbit" Robinson

William Clyde “Rabbit” Robinson

Superstitions

4 Oct

Baseball history is rife with stories of superstitions, “hoodoo” and all manner of irrational beliefs meant to improve performance and win games.

George Mullin who won more than 200 games in the first two decades of the 20th century, primarily with the Detroit Tigers, was well known to seek things to bring him luck and avoid “hoodoo.”

It’s a fairly well-known story that Mullin was one of the Tiger players who believed that team mascot Ulysses Harrison, an orphaned African-American child taken in by Ty Cobb and called “Lil Rastus,” brought him luck.  After Harrison was dismissed as Tiger mascot Mullin was one of the players instrumental in bringing the youth back for the 1909 season, and on at least one occasion “kidnapped” Harrison from Cobb’s room and had him stay in his in order bring him luck on the mound the following day.

Surely Mullin’s 29-8 record in 1909 helped to cement his belief in “luck.”

Tiger mascot Ulysses Harrison with pitcher George Mullin

Another of Mullin’s superstitions is less well known.

According to the Fort Wayne News Mullin was convinced that “For a pitcher to have his mug taken after twirling a winner means a defeat sure in the next game.”

Mullin had very particular rules for having his photo taken:

“If one day is allowed to pass by after the victory the hoodoo is powerless.  By the same token it is safe to have the picture taken just before he starts to pitch.”

George Mullin, in a photograph presumably not taken the day after a victory.

After retiring in 1915, Mullin became a police officer in Wabash, Indiana and died there in 1944.