I don’t talk about myself with as much vivacity as my fellow Short Relievers because, well, I just don’t. Keeping retaining walls around myself is part defense mechanism, part security blanket, formed from years of Being Online. But Monday I had a bad day at work. Because… well, no reason to get into it! I don’t like talking about my actual job, which I enjoy, because nobody who writes online likes to openly admit they have a real 8-to-5. We all enjoy the obviously untrue pretense that we generate baseball insight full-time. It was a bad day, though. No major screw-ups, just a high volume of vignettes all with negative energy that resulted in an extremely negative day. It paralleled Jacob Turner’s start in Anaheim on Wednesday: one inning, seven runs, five earned runs, some bleeders through the infield. Some of it was probably my fault but it shouldn’t have been this bad, man.
So what are my options? A new job? Go live in the woods? Or perhaps the worst option of all… start a podcast about it? Generally I don’t get that down on myself; from what I read, I guess I’m pretty fortunate in that regard to be very level-headed on most days.
That night I saw the news that Rick Ankiel wants to make a comeback. Not back to outfielding, but rather to the thing he was really bad at. As in, “11 walks and nine wild pitches in four postseason innings” bad. You’ve never seen someone worse at pitching in the postseason. It was enough to make him live in the rhetorical woods for a few years, and nobody blamed him. The switch to hitting/fielding was a bonus feel-good story. The pitching comeback sounds like a joke to the latest 2018 craze because if position players can pitch, then so can Ankiel. But this is a sincere post, so there are no jokes.
Yes, it was literally 18 years ago that the bad stuff happened to Ankiel. The worst thing that happened to me 18 years ago was having my prom date cancel on me the week before. By Ankiel’s logic, I should have no qualms over attending the prom this year. (Once again I apologize for the jokes.)
So bad things happened to me, or maybe my interpretation of the external factors was that I felt bad. Looking back I probably got a lot done, and helped a lot of fellow workers. The next day I went in and felt a bit better. The rest of the week kept improving. Thursday ruled, and next week I’m sure I’ll be back to the jokes.
Professional sports are full of superstitions, but it’s no question that baseball hosts the most bizarro rituals. Why? I imagine it has to do with the fact that baseball is very old, and also that it doesn’t run on a clock, so players have a lot of time—across generations and at the plate—to get into their heads. For fans, they’re a way in to the person behind the uniform, and that accessibility is part of what makes baseball great, even if it turns out the person behind the uniform is profoundly gross. I think today’s players could use a little more quirk; you know, beyond favored neon armband swag. What follows are five of the top, calculated by weirdness, foulness, and efficacy.
5. Rally cap
The lowdown: So look, I’m probably biased—wearing your cap inside out when you’re behind is said to be at least part Mets fan invention. What makes this superstition so great, though, is that fans can get in on the neuroses. In fact, it’s a rare superstition that, in whatever origin story you believe, started first with fans and spread to the players. Plus, it’s one of the least gross ones on the list.
Weirdo quotient: 2/5.
Nausea bonus: 0/5.
Efficacy Rating: 2.5/5. I’ve seen the rally cap work miracles. I’ve also seen the Mets play this season.
4. Three is the magic number
The lowdown: Most people associate Wade Boggs with strange number superstitions, like being a stickler for wake-up and practice start times. (Also he ate a ton of chicken.) But I think Larry Walker’s penchant for the number 3 is even more fun. Number 33 would wake up at 33 minutes past the hour, and always take three, or a multiple of three, practice swings. Whenever the Canadian was playing in Montreal, he’d buy 33 tickets for underprivileged kids, to be sat in section 333. He even got married on November 3rd, at 3:33 PM.
Weirdo quotient: 3/5. It doesn’t seem that weird, and the ticket thing is even sweet, until it spills over into the wedding day, though I guess we can be grateful he didn’t skip Spring Training to tie the knot in March.
Nausea bonus: 0/5. All good, clean, weird fun here.
3. Turk Wendell, in general. (But specifically his obsession with teeth.)
The lowdown: Wendell might be one of the most superstitious baseball players ever, and that’s of course among stiff competition. Some of his quirks included requiring the umpire to roll him the ball rather than throw it, squatting down whenever his catcher stood, and a good old fear of baselines. Wendell’s practice of brushing his teeth in the dugout between innings, a habit tethered to his fondness for black licorice, was a big hit with fans. But my personal favorite was his homemade necklace, strung with the teeth and claws of things he’d killed. Can’t get more badass than that.
Weirdo quotient: 5/5.
Nausea bonus: 2/5. (for the licorice swill he no doubt left in the dugout)
Efficacy Rating: 3/5. With a career WARP of 2.7, Wendell was slightly better than your average pitcher. Though who’s to say what he might have played like without the teeth?
2. Mark McGwire’s underpants
Weirdo quotient: 3/5. I refuse to believe that’s comfortable.
Nausea bonus: 5/5. And I’m not even going to ask if he’s washing the thing.
Efficacy rating: 5/5. 583 career home runs, 12 All-Star games, two Silver Sluggers WARP 56.2. Not to mention the Mcgwire-Sosa race’s incalculable effect on bringing the masses back to baseball—that was one hell of a jockstrap. Or maybe it was the steroids.
1. Peeing on yourself
Weirdo quotient: 4/5. Time to splurge on some Aquaphor, guys. Or, you know, batting gloves.
Nausea bonus: 5/5. Alou was one of the first baseball cards I ever got, and I was totally enamored of him. This changes things.
Efficacy rating: 5/5. With career WARPs of 32.9 and 41, respectively, and lotion manufacturers galore including urea in their products, I guess the guys were onto something.