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In Americas Pastime, sometimes talent and hard work arent enough. Now, in Jinxed, some of the best baseball scribes in the business catalog the superstitions, rituals, eccentricities, routines, and just plain bizarre behavior of players who believe such actions will give them an edge on the diamond.
Is baseball a numbers game? St. Louis outfielder Larry Walker seems to think so. Larry tries to organize his life in multiples of three: He takes three practice swings, got married at 3:33 p.m., and gave his ex-wife $3 million in a divorce settlement. Think a bad commute can wreck your day? Look no further than Cincinnatis Ken Griffey, Jr., who ditched his Mercedes because he never seemed to get a hit on the days he drove it to the ballpark.
And the stories of curious devotions and odd customs just keep on coming. Legendary journeyman of the 60s and 70s Rico Carty floated five lit candles in the bathtub, sink, and toilet of his hotel room, confident that the rite would help him get five hits in that days game. You are what you eat? Tell that to third baseman Wade Boggs, who believed in the power of poultry and ate chicken every day. And talk about a real jock, Rob Murphy, a left-handed relief pitcher in the 1980s and 1990s, wore womens black silk panties under his athletic supporter. (Any wonder that he pitched for eight different teams?)
Even the all-time greats had their quirks. Babe Ruth stepped on second base every time he ran to his position in the outfield, while Willie Mays always kicked that same bag en route to his station in center field. Lefty Grove, like many before and after him, famously avoided stepping on the foul line on his way to and from the dugout.
Just what is it about life on the diamond that reduces otherwise rational men to gratuitously strange habits? One possible answer is that in baseball, the odds are stacked against you. Just ten extra hits in a hundred at bats could mean the difference between a trip to A ball and a trip to Cooperstown; mere fractions of an inch can determine the course of a game, series, season, or career. Ballplayers, says Rich Donnelly, a major league coach, are like trained animals. They come to the ballpark, and everything has to be the same. They dont like anything that knocks them off their routine.
As if we needed additional evidence that elite athletes are, indeed, a breed apart, Jinxed offers fans a wild and oftentimes insightful excursion into the mind of a professional baseball player.
Ken Griffey Jr. once got rid of a luxury automobile because, It didnt have any hits in it. It seems that every time Griffey drove a particular Mercedes to the ballpark, he failed to get a hit in the game that day. Griffey became so disgusted with the car that he banished it from his Cincinnati fleet, shipping it to his Florida home. He later traded it in for another Mercedes. Presumably, that one came stocked with hitsGriffey still had it as the 2005 major league baseball season approached.
Griffeys behavior might seem strange to many, but not in the baseball industry, where superstitions and rituals are as much a part of the game as beer vendors and the seventh-inning stretch.