By Chris Meiman, Curator & Exhibits Director
It’s no secret that athletes are superstitious. From basketball players’ rituals while shooting free throws to playoff beards in hockey, athletes of all stripes don’t want to mess up what might be working for them. Baseball players, however, might be the worst, or at least, have the most colorful rituals.
Some superstitions are almost universal in baseball: don’t talk to a pitcher who is throwing a no-hitter, don’t step on the foul line, wear your ball caps inside-out to start a rally and don’t wash your uniform when things are going well. Here are the stories of a few superstar sluggers who took their quirks a little further.
Larry Walker (pictured below) is one of the best ballplayers not yet inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Over his 17 seasons with Montréal, Colorado and St. Louis, Walker won the 1997 MVP Award, three Silver Slugger Awards and three Silver Bat Awards for leading the National League in hitting. The Canadian-native obviously had talent, but his success might also have something to do with his obsession with the number three. Not only did Walker wear #33 in every game he played, but also his fixation on the number goes beyond the jersey. In a 1993 Sports Illustrated profile, it was noted that Walker was married on November 3 at 3:33 pm and takes practice swings in multiples of three. Walker also set his alarm for 33 minutes past whatever hour he wanted to wake up and while playing for Montréal, he would set aside 33 tickets for underprivileged children to sit in section 333 of Olympic Stadium
His interest in threes even extended to Louisville Slugger – Walker signed his promotional contract on March 13th in 1994 and virtually every bat order in his career had a #3 in the model number, mostly the C235, but also the R43, I13 and the S318 models. Even when it doesn’t work for Walker, he was still looking for threes. In a 1997 SI piece, Walker said that his marriage lasted three years and that the divorce cost him $3 million.
Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs (pictured below) is one of the greatest hitters of all time. An eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner and five-time Silver Bat winner, Boggs was listed on 92% of ballots in the 2005 Hall of Fame election. The secret to Boggs’s success was apparently being a “Chickentarian,” or eating chicken before every game.
In a 1985 Christian Science Monitor profile, Boggs said the chicken habit started in the minor leagues because he had a large family and chicken was inexpensive. Once he started eating it, Boggs said he “really felt better eating lighter food rather than a lot of heavy meat and gravy.” The habit became so pronounced, the poultry company Perdue once sent him a six-month supply of chicken, which only lasted about a month and a half. Later, Boggs published a book of recipes from his mother, grandmother and wife called Fowl Tips. Throughout his career, Boggs became known as the “Chicken Man” and if you want to reach him, you can always tweet at his @ChickenMan3010 Twitter account.
Beyond poultry, Boggs had plenty of other quirks, including taking batting practice at 5:17 and running sprints at 7:17 before a 7:30 game. Despite not being Jewish, Boggs drew the Hebrew symbol “chai,” meaning “good luck and life,” in the batter’s box before every at bat. Boggs acknowledged these habits in his Hall of Fame speech saying, “Believe me, I have a few superstitions, and they work.”
Richie Ashburn (pictured above), Baseball Hall of Famer and Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster for a quarter century is one of the most beloved figures in Philadelphia sports history. For 20 years, Ashburn worked with another legend in play-by-play man Harry Kalas and the two became inseparable. Occasionally, long baseball broadcasts can venture into areas away from the diamond and one night, Kalas asked Ashburn about superstitions. Below was the exchange as reported by BCTV.org on the occasion of Kalas’s death in 2009.
Harry asked him if he had any superstitions as a player, and Richie said, "Oh yeah Harry, if I had a bat that I was hitting the ball good with, I'd take it back to the hotel, and sleep with it."
Harry was incredulous as he responded, "Richie, you mean to tell me that you slept with your bats?" Without missing a beat Ashburn shot back, "Well Harry, to tell you the truth, I've slept with quite a few old bats in my time."
Of course, we don’t know exactly which bats Ashburn slept with. The winner of two Silver Bat Awards, Ashburn used 17 different models in his long career, including his own super-short A76 model that was only 32” long!
Apparently, Ashburn’s luck hit a speed bump in an August 17, 1957 game against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. According to an article by Daven Hisky , Ashburn fouled the first pitch of his at bat and hit Alice Roth, wife of a Philadelphia Bulletin editor, in the face and broke her nose. After a delay to allow for medical personnel to remove Mrs. Roth from the stands, Ashburn fouled another pitch off and hit Mrs. Roth again! Strangely, Ashburn and Roth became friends as Ashburn later wrote for the Bulletin, but from then on, Mrs. Roth would only sit in the outfield bleachers. Perhaps she too had reason to be a bit superstitious!