The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
MSU's Rally Banana the Latest in Baseball Superstitions and Rituals

The Mississippi State baseball team got a lot of ink and air time during the NCAA regionals and College World Series for its introduction of the rally banana as a way to spur the team to win several games involving dramatic walk-off home runs and hits.

We’ve heard of baseball teams employing rally caps, rally towels, and even rally monkeys before.  But rally bananas?  It seemed like an off-the-wall idea for a superstition bringing good fortune, but apparently it worked until the Bulldogs ran into the hot-hitting lineup of Oregon State in the CWS semi-finals.

“Rally” paraphernalia is just one of the many superstitions and rituals that have been part of baseball for since the game’s early days.  During 1880’s infielder Cap Anson would not talk to his starting pitcher on game day because he thought it would contribute to his pitcher staying focused.  Members of the 1894 Baltimore Orioles drank a glass of turkey gravy before each game to bring them luck.

Players usually adopt these seemingly crazy actions because they are looking for something to attribute their good fortunes on the field and then want to make sure they can maintain it.  Often that results in a superstition or ritual, many of which are pretty bizarre.  Following is a selection of some of the most noteworthy in baseball lore.

Hall of Famer Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game.  Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield would eat a pound of spaghetti before games he pitched.

“Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio would step on second base when running from the outfield to the dugout.  Oakland A’s Jason Giambi wore a golden thong to get out of a slump and supposedly convinced a few other players it worked.

Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio never washed his batting helmet despite collecting years of dirt and pine tar.  Slugger Reggie Jackson wore the same batting helmet with the Angels that he had used while playing for the Yankees, of course re-painted with the Angels logo.

Pitcher Charlie Kerfeld wore a Jetson’s T-shirt while playing with the Houston Astros.  It supposedly brought him luck because the Jetson’s dog was named “Astro.”  Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell never used a bat with his own name stamped on it.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart would throw a piece of gum across the plate during each at-bat.

One of the most notable player rituals in the batters’ box includes David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who would spit on his batting gloves and then slap his hands together.  Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra had a routine of adjusting his batting gloves on every pitch.  His ritual became so popular that practically every 12-year-old amateur player wound up mimicking his glove adjustments.  Former Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians first baseman Mike Hargrove was called the “human rain delay” for his time-consuming routine during each at-bat.

There were a couple of pitchers who gained notoriety for their antics on the mound.  Upon entering a game as a reliever, former Cardinals pitcher Al Hrabosky would turn his back on the batter, roll the ball between his hands, slam the ball into his glove, turn around quickly and stomp back to the pitching rubber before throwing a pitch.  1970s pitching sensation Mark “The Bird” Fidrych’s antics included talking to the baseball and smoothing out the dirt on the mound with his hand.

Over the years, many players have resorted to wearing the same socks or t-shirt without washing them during a hitting or pitching streak.  Former Houston Astros slugger Glenn Davis re-used his chewing gum every day during his hitting streaks.  Other players have resorted to pre-game rituals in the clubhouse to ensure their luck was maintained.

Perhaps one of the most well-known superstitions in the game involves teammates refraining from mentioning to a pitcher that he has a no-hitter while he is in the middle of throwing one.  It’s considered a jinx to the pitcher if someone does, including the broadcasters in the TV/radio booth.

Former Mets and Cubs relief pitcher Turk Wendell may have been the king of superstitions and rituals.  With four seasons of 70 or more appearances, he had a lot of opportunities to demonstrate them.  His repertoire included having the umpire roll a new ball to him; eating black licorice instead of gum or tobacco; brushing his teeth between innings; waving to his centerfielder at the start of each inning; slamming the pitcher’s resin bag down hard on the ground; and taking an exaggerated hop over the foul line.

There has actually been a precedent for Mississippi State’s rally banana.  The Dominican Republic national team featured a rally plantain they used during their eight-game sweep in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Pitcher Fernando Rodney, who recorded seven saves during the series, was the keeper of the plantain.  Unlike the Dominican team that won the WBC championship, State’s luck with the banana ran out against a very talented Beavers team in the CWS.

If you have another favorite baseball superstition or ritual, I’d like to hear from you in the Comments section.

2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. JAMES Murray | June 26, 2018 at 09:01 AM EDT

As usual, an entertaining and informative read, Mr. Cuicchi. thanks for taking the time to enlighten us.

On our current day Astros, no one talks to Justin Verlander when he is the starting pitcher. This includes before and during the game. They show him on the bench by himself while he is still in the game. However, as soon as he is lifted, he changes his entire demeanor. The broadcasters now use it to tip the audience whether JV is coming out for another inning.

Keep up the great work!

2. Richard Cuicchi | July 01, 2018 at 08:39 PM EDT

Jim, thanks for the note about Verlander. Richard

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