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Murphy’s Law (And Other Great Baseball Superstitions)

Today is a big day for baseball. As of this writing—it’s Tuesday morning—the Blue Jays are about to take on the dreaded Cleveland bullpen once more in an effort to stay alive; meanwhile, National League teams will duke it out for a lead at Dodger Stadium tonight.

I for one will be rooting for Chicago. Even if I attempt to be the bigger (wo)man and neutralize the Utley Factor, I’d still go for the Cubs. From what I can tell, lots of Mets fans feel similarly. In fact, in an extremely scientific Twitter poll I conducted on Monday, 47 percent of respondents (out of a total whopping 32 votes) are also for the Cubs. (The Jays came in second with 28 percent, 16 percent for Cleveland and nine percent for L.A.) It makes sense. We Mets fans have known droughts—and because of that, it’s hard not to have at least a little sympathy for a team that hasn’t touched World Series turf since 1945.

76 years (or 108 since their last win) is a long time, enough to make even the most rational-minded among us consider the possibility of some dark magic. And this is another tether between Cubs and Mets fans (and players)—superstitions galore! Of course, baseball in general is rife with superstition, but the Cubs’ long dearth of World Series appearances is probably the most famous curse still in action, (and in an interesting twist, one in which the Mets feature). Simultaneously, Mets players routinely top lists of performing the strangest luck-seeking routines. I’ve read a lot of weird, weird habits these past few hours, and rounded up some of my favorites here, but first—the curse:

Tavern owner Bill Sianis brought his good luck charm—a goat named Murphy—to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley. The powers that be let Sianis but not the goat in, declaring that the goat stunk, while Sianis in turn is said to have declared that the Cubs would no longer win. And they haven’t since, not the World Series, anyway.

The Mets are implicated, too, in the curse of the Billy Goat by a trio of Murphies—when the 1969 Mets performed the miracle of overtaking the first-place Cubs in a race to the World Series, it was under the management of GM Johnny Murphy. The team’s announcer at the time? Bob Murphy. Then of course there was 2015 Daniel Murphy, (who the Mets might argue is their own special curse). In the NLCS, though, Murph was MVP, hitting four home runs and batting .529 for the series.

The more you look at it, the more it makes sense that the Mets, and their fans, might believe in a little baseball magic. Starting with:

Rally Caps!

The start of the tradition is often pegged to 1940s Detroit baseball, but its more widely noted that Mets fans popularized the superstition. Fans at Shea in 1985 employed the rally cap in wide swaths, and the practice spread to other fans and the players themselves, most memorably the next year in the World Series, when Mets in the dugout turned their caps inside out in a tight 2-3 Game 6, at which point they of course did rally to force a Game 7 … and the rest is history.

Richie Ashburn

An original 1962 Met, Ashburn used to sleep with his old baseball bats.

Did it work? Ashburn’s magical bedmates weren’t strong enough to do much about that 40-120 team record, but Ashburn himself had an All-Star year—his last in the majors—slashing .306/.424/.393. He averaged .308 over his 15-year career with a WARP of 72.1.

Dick Stuart

Stuart, a ’66 Met, always chewed a piece of gum while going up to bat, then threw it out across the plate before the first pitch. What the hell, Dick—now the next guy’s gonna have that stuck to his cleat!

Did it work? Well, it wasn’t amazing (that’s what you get for littering!) In Flushing, Stuart batted .218/.292/.356, with a career average of .264 and WARP of 6.4.

Lenny Dykstra

A Met from 1985-89, Dykstra was known for changing his batting gloves each time he struck out.

Did it work?: Seems like it—the Mets went all the way in ’86, and Dykstra was a good hitter throughout his career, slashing .285/.375/.419 with a WARP of 46 (though, annoyingly, his All-Star years were all with the Phillies). His luck certainly ran out later though, off the diamond—maybe he should have thought about some gloves when he was out (allegedly) committing grand theft auto?

Turk Wendell

Pitchers are known to be the most superstitious players of the most superstitious game but Wendell really took it to the next level—a treasure trove of quirks. One of his more normal habits was to avoid stepping on the foul line, as many players do, though he was known to jump over it and avoid the surrounding dirt completely as well. He also chewed four pieces of black licorice per inning while pitching, then brushed his teeth in the dugout between innings. He wore a necklace strung with the teeth of things he’d killed. Instead of a 10-million-dollar contract, he asked that it be written out as $9,999,999.99 (to match his uniform and favorite number, 99).  Then there was that time we lost him in the woods for a while, and he came back with a giant dead mountain lion ….

Did it work? Well, maybe it helped him not get eaten by that mountain lion? As a Met from 1997-2001, Wendell had a 3.34 ERA over 285 games, slightly better than his career average of 3.93, and WARP of 3.1.

Oliver Perez

Perez also had a particularly distinctive jump over the first base foul line, one that changed in height depending on how good he was pitching that day.

Did it work? Eh. A Met from 2006-2010, Perez had an ERA of 4.71, with an overall career average ERA of 4.46 and a WARP of 8.7.

R.A. Dickey

Dickey’s pitching rituals aren’t particularly quirky (especially in the shadow of Wendell’s); he was most known around the clubhouse for taking a Jacuzzi, then a shower, before a start. At the plate, though, things get a little weirder. Dickey names his bats really bizarre, slightly Medieval names—some greats include “Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver” and “Hrunting.”

Did it work? I don’t know about Dickey-as-slugger, but a Met from 2010-2012 and a 2012 All-Star and CY Young winner, Dickey spent some of his best years in Queens, with an ERA 2.95. He has a career ERA of 4.01 and a WARP of 15.

Moises Alou

Okay, ew. I had read before that Alou chose not to wear batting gloves—badass. And read somewhere else that he’d taken to peeling the skin off his hands to avoid too much callous build-up—seems painful and/or painstaking, but fine. But apparently Alou’s additional trick for toughing up his skin while avoiding callouses was to piss on his hands. Jorge Posada was also into this habit, a maneuver that, the Wall Street Journal suggests, may not even make chemical sense. But sorry guys, for me the efficacy and chemical makeup of one’s urine is really a moot point; can’t we all just go back to talking about Jason Giambi’s shiny, slump-busting thong?

Later, as a Cub, Alou had a hand in the fateful 2003 Steve Bartman incident, in which Bartman, a fan in the stands, interfered with a catch that would’ve been the second out in the inning. At the time, Chicago still held a 3-0 lead, but Bartman’s obstruction was the first in a series of (yellow) snowballing mishaps. The Cubs eventually gave up eight runs and lost the game, and the next day the series. The curse of Murphy the goat, it seems, was no match for Alou’s pee.

Did it work? Well not that time! But overall, Alou was a great hitter. As a Met in 2007-2008, at age 40, he batted .342/.391/.507 with a career line of .303/.369/.516 and WARP of 41.

Pedro Martinez

It’s hard to believe that a Hall of Famer like Martinez would be into superstitions. That said, he invited actor and fellow Dominican Nelson De La Rosa, to the Sox clubhouse for good luck in 2004 during the World Series. De La Rosa himself was record holder, recorded by the Guinness in 1989 as shortest living adult, at two feet, four inches.

Did it work? I mean, hell yeah! The Sox broke their curse; Martinez is one of the greatest pitchers ever to have played the game. His numbers in Queens toward the end of his career, 2005-2008, don’t do him justice: his ERA was 3.77, versus the 2.52 across his 7 years in Boston, or 2.93 overall. Maybe, after a long and successful career, it was just his time. Or maybe Martinez really did need good luck from his buddy De La Rosa, who died suddenly in 2006.

Anyway, coming off a killer season, and with no Murphies in sight, I’ll put my rally cap on for the Cubs these next few days—only if they really need it, of course.

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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