Jordan never hit the court without his UNC trunks under his Bulls uniform. And Boggs ate chicken before every game. MF explains why your favorite pro athletes practice the superstitious rituals they do.
With everything we know about the world in this day and age, it’s tough to justify going about superstitious rituals that don’t seem to serve any particular purpose. We don’t scream at the moon to get out of the way during eclipses anymore – we’ve replaced that with a working knowledge of science and advanced technology. Even in professional sports, we have statistics that continue to become more complex and detailed – giving us a more precise idea of who contributes what in any given game. <p>
Although crunching the numbers might give viewers a better idea of what’s going on, actually playing the game, whatever it is, is more or less the same physical, unpredictable activity it’s always been. Smart, rational players are the most successful, but all of them still found their way to the top stage of the game through practice and honing their instincts. Some players and whole teams may have weird habits, but those rituals got them to the premier stage, and it provides them with a routine with which they feel comfortable. Here’s our list featuring some of the most bizarre, well-documented superstitions in pro sports.
Nomar Garciaparra’s Batting Preparation
Nomar was well loved within Boston from the mid-90s and into the 2000s for being one of the best shortstops in the league, leading the Red Sox’s offense with Manny Ramirez.
Boston fans lament the fact that he was gone before the 2004 curse-ending championship, but most other fans could care less. He was a constant threat at the plate, although part of that came in the form of annoyance for viewers, who were mystified throughout his career due to his apparent inability to Velcro his batting gloves or hold still in the batter’s box. Every new pitch brought about more fidgeting with his gloves; more kicking the dirt off his shoes once he stepped back into the box. He’s had a number of imitators, and it’s arguable that he contributed to the increasingly slow pace of MLB games. Still, you can’t argue with results – Garciaparra appeared in six All-Star Games and posted a career .313
average over 14 pro seasons.
Wade Boggs’ Pre-Game Chicken Tradition
Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs enjoyed an incredibly successful 18-year career, appearing in 12 All-Star Games and winning the 1996 World Series with the Yankees before calling it quits at the end of the ’99 season, with a .328 career batting average and over 3,000 hits. If you did that well for yourself, would you change any part of your approach to the game? Boggs had an insanely regimented pre-game routine –
reportedly, he would field exactly 150 ground balls in the infield, start his batting practice at exactly 5:17 PM (during night games), and run wind sprints at exactly 7:17 PM.
Then, of course, there was the chicken he would eat before every game, earning him the nickname, “Chicken Man.” He embraced the public’s interest in his chicken obsession by
putting out a book featuring his favorite fowl recipes in 1984.
Michael Jordan’s UNC Shorts
The six-time champion/Finals MVP and five-time regular season MVP who dominated the NBA in the 1990s, an era that featured a number of all-time great players, never forgot his basketball roots. Jordan wore his lucky shorts from his days at UNC underneath his Chicago Bulls uniform in every NBA game, which may have helped propel him to more greatness on the professional stage. MJ had led his alma mater to an NCAA championship in 1982, and would wear those ratty old short shorts throughout his career, including his two separate three-peats from 1991-93 and 1996-98. Jordan wore longer shorts than most players to fully cover his college gear, and he’s credited with effecting the change in basketball shorts style that persists today.
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Team Ecuador’s Witch Doctor
Superstitions originated thousands of years ago, when most men lived in tribes and knew very little about the world around them. Today, similar rituals still exist in sports – just with a more modern spin to them, although there are exceptions. In the spring of 2006, Team Ecuador sent a shaman, Tzamarenda Naychapi, to all 12 of Germany’s World Cup venues to banish evil spirits before the tournament. The shaman apparently drove some of the spirits out, leading Ecuador to its most successful World Cup ever (they’ve only made one other trip). Still, their run ended in a 1-0 loss to England in the Round of 16, after enjoying victories over Poland and Costa Rica in the group stage.
Rafael Nadal’s Neurotic On-Court Habits
Rafa’s behavior may not seem too out of the ordinary when you watch him on screen during the later rounds of Grand Slam tennis tournaments. However, this champion has a number of peculiar habits and world-views that set him apart, not only from the general population, but also from most of his opponents, who also take part in the lonely, often superstitious pro tennis circuit. In his autobiography, he revealed some of the things he hates (not dislikes, hates) off the court – ham, cheese, storms, animals and several other things. On the court, he has a number of habits that have been noted – Will Swanton of The Australian listed a slew of them <a href="http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/tennis/
inside-the-mind-of-rafael-nadal-the-neurotic/story-fnbe6xeb-1226544759810"/>(Inside the Mind of Rafael Nadal the Neurotic).</a> Some examples: Nadal takes a cold shower 45 minutes before every match, he towels down after every point (even for aces and double faults), he points the labels of his drinking bottles toward the end of the court he’s about to play from and he never stands up from his chair before his opponent. If you’re not this neurotic, that’s why you’ve never made it to the Wimbledon Final.
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Tiger Woods’ Red Shirt
Tiger has always worn a red shirt while competing on Sundays, during the last round of golf tournaments. Why does he do this? The answer is simple – his mother told him to. According to her, it’s his power color, so he’s just rolled with it ever since he went pro in 1996. It might also be worth noting that he spent two years at Stanford, whose primary school color is red. Regardless, Tiger’s another guy with a track record you can’t argue with – on the course, at least. Tiger has 77 PGA Tour wins and recently made a long-awaited return to the number one spot in the pro rankings with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
NHL players get intensely superstitious during the playoffs, constantly growing out their beards until they hoist the Cup, or get eliminated. By the time the Stanley Cup Finals roll around, it can look more like a game between a couple rugged lumberjack companies than a game to decide the NHL championship. The New York Islanders are credited with starting the tradition in the early 1980s, and the fact that they took four straight Cups while exhibiting this behavior definitely helped the idea stick around. Of course, most players don’t put faith in their beards to bring them luck, but many still like the tradition for purposes of team unity and focus. Players in other sports have been known to grow playoff beards as well – recently, LeBron James has done it with the Miami Heat, and San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson and teammate Sergio Romo grew out huge beards during the 2010 MLB playoffs – leading fans to rally behind the slogan “Fear the Beards” before the team eventually won the World Series.
No-hitters are rare, special moments in the baseball world, and the lead-up to them can push even the most rational players toward bizarre behavior and blatant superstition. Normally, it takes until the middle innings for things to get tense, and a little strange, and both teams are compliant in their own way. Pitchers are usually ignored and are expected to sit in the same spot on the bench when they’re not out on the mound. By the eighth inning, most of them are probably wound pretty tight, but it’s just because teammates don’t want to jinx them – if they talk to their pitcher about the no-hit bid, it’ll be over, and if they talk about something else, it’ll be too obvious that they’re trying hard to avoid talking about it (isolation is the key to success, right?). The other team pitches in by manning up and avoiding cheap bunt hits, even when the situation seems conducive to a bunt single (ex: speedy hitter with bunting skills against a deep infield alignment with runners on base in a close game). Fans can come up with their own superstitions, but announcers also have a choice to make – should they mention the obvious or give in to superstitions and avoid uttering the phrase ‘no hitter’ (or God forbid, ‘perfect game’)? Angels’ broadcaster Victor Rojas never mentioned that Jered Weaver was tossing a no-hitter in 2012 until he actually completed it, reigniting the debate about the media’s place in this baseball phenomenon.
Larry Walker’s Obsession with the Number 3
The 1997 MVP who was an offensive juggernaut for the Colorado Rockies of the ‘90s was another deeply superstitious man, completely fixated on the number ‘3.’ According to a 1993 Sports Illustrated article by Leigh Montville, Walker’s obsession played a role in his approach to the game, and his personal life as well. He was married on November 3 at 3:33 and his phone number had “as many threes as the phone company would allow.” While playing, he wore number 33, and he would take three practice swings before going to bat. If he was tight, he would alter that to some multiple of three swings, and he agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with the Expos in 1993 (the year is coincidental, but the contract probably wasn’t). Hey, it worked for him – Walker was one of the most dominant players of his era, even when a lot of the league was on steroids.
Babe Ruth and Second Base, and his Bats, and Women’s Clothes
The Great Bambino carried some interesting eccentricities with him throughout his wildly successful Major League career, in which he compiled a lifetime .342 average with 714 home runs. By the numbers, he was the best MLB player of all time and did more than anyone else to create and uphold the Yankee mystique. Ruth always made sure to step on second base whenever he jogged in from right field. If he ever forgot, he would run out from the dugout and kick it before the next half-inning began. As for his baseball bats, he refused to allow teammates to borrow one from him, claiming that every bat had a certain number of hits in it, and he wanted every last one of them. He also frequently wore women’s silken stockings during time off from the game, although he snagged that bright idea from fellow Hall of Famer/legend Honus Wagner, who claimed they somehow guarded him from falling into batting slumps.
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