Friday, April 25, 2008

I Ain't Superstitious

Part of the reason why I love baseball so much is its reliance on tradition, unwritten rules and colorful history. Watch Ken Burns' 14 hour documentary, "Baseball" and you'd be hard pressed not to come away with an even greater appreciation for baseball's complex history of anecdotes. And, in a sport built around exaggerated hand gestures and strategic compromise, its amazing how much the sport is reliant on superstition. Think of that great scene in "Bull Durham" (culled from real life since director Ron Shelton played minor league ball for several years) where Jose (Rick Marzan) approaches the pitcher's mound, terrified out of his mind because his wife put a hex on his bat. The only thing that would cure the hex was the blood from a live chicken. And then "Major League" where Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) prayed to Buddha before every game. In the topsy-turvey real life season so far this April, superstition and hexes have come full circle to imprint their mystical charm on baseball fans.

Hexes in baseball can be attributed back to the Babe Ruth curse when he was traded from Boston to the Yankees back in the day, a curse that was finally broken in '04 when the Sox reclaimed the title (so there's hope for all curses then, I suppose?). And, those lovable loser Cubs certainly have had their share of otherworldly curses, beginning with the infamous billy goat incident, its brush with a black cat in '69, and more recently, that poor sap named Bartman. Wow, now that's some misery.

If the controversy between the Red Sox and Yankees isn't enough, there was the great story earlier this month when a construction worker tried to bury a David Ortiz jersey in the foundation of the new Yankee stadium. This could've been a curse for the ages. Equal to a 8.5 quake hitting California, this would have sent the Yankee organization into a tailspin. Why in the hell did the guy blab? Could you imagine releasing this info a year or 2 after the stadium was finished? The Steinbrenner family would nuke the whole stadium, find the jersey and start all over. Bottom line- when you pull a great jinx, keep it to yourself until the time is right. And then, earlier this week, another black cat sprang from nowhere and jumped onto the playing field and (possibly) cursed the Yankees season (you tube below). ESPN reporters joked that it looked like the same cat from the '69 Cubs season. In a sport full of nervous twitches- i.e. pitchers and their fascination with rubbing the brim of their hat and licking fingers.... or the way a third baseman will methodically and religiously groom the dirt in front of him before each inning- superstition is king and baseball players do not forget such things.

Locally, Dallas has experienced its own brush with the jinx, evoked several years ago by politicians anxious to crown a hometown team champion. It was 2005 and the Dallas Mavericks had advanced to the NBA finals. After taking a two games to nil lead in the series, mayor Laura Miller announced the proposed route for the title parade through downtown. After that announcement, the Mavericks lost 4 straight games. Since that series, not a single professional Dallas sports team had made it out the first round of ANY playoffs. The Mavericks were knocked out by a lackluster Golden State last year, the Cowboys (who many picked to win the Super Bowl last year- glad that didn't happen tho!) lost in the first round of their playoffs, and the Stars (until this year again, curse broken) had failed to exit the first round as well. 'Loserville' talk was in full swing, and Dallas sports fans still refer to it as 'the announcement' that's turned this town into a sports sinkhole. All I can say, with the exception of the Rangers who need no curse to be godawful, I'm kinda glad I don't have a rooting interest in any of those other 3 teams mentioned. Otherwise, I'd be very close to jumping off the ledge.

So, of this got me thinking. Is there anything to it? Probably not, but I love how personal psychology plays such an important role in the actions and outcomes of our lives. I'm sure there are a host of rituals that athletes go there in preparing themselves but how exactly does one prepare for a black cat to burst onto the playing field during a MLB game? I would guess none. It all depends on your personal belief in things. I know some friends who take ample stock in horoscopes or fortune cookies (!). I believe you make your own luck. And if I got freaked out every time I had a black cat cross my path, I don't know if I'd make it out of the house. Plus, I used to have a black cat as a pretty cool pet, so I'm partial there. If nothing else, the succession of superstitious acts prevalent in baseball this season has added some nice fun to the mix. And, I guess the joke's really on us since the Ortiz jersey dug up from beneath Yankee stadium sold for close to $200,000 yesterday.

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