The road to the World Series is built on the accumulated talents of players who have spent years training, the wisdom of managers and coaches who spend their lives studying the game and the backing of fans who support their teams throughout the season. Winning the World Series, however, requires all these things and maybe a little magic, too.
For a game that's all about stats and percentages, baseball engenders a somewhat surprisingly, but notoriously superstitious following. No other sport seems to employ the term "curse" as regularly and convincingly as baseball, for example. Take a look at some of the habits and rituals performed by baseball's most superstitious competitors.
If the Red Sox end up as the World Series champions, as they appear primed to become, expect a parade that celebrates beards as much as it does baseball.
As the New York Times put it: "The Red Sox have done two things exceptionally well this season: play baseball and grow beards." Playoff beards are nothing new to sports, first popular among hockey players in the 1980s.
Following the lead of first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Jonny Gomes, who began growing their facial hair during spring training, the whole team eventually took a superstitious sabbatical from shaving. Boston beards have not only brought the players together in the clubhouse, but also drawn acclaim from Red Sox and beard enthusiasts alike.
Among the players taking the field this evening, Cardinals relief pitcher Randy Choate may be among the most superstitious not just between the two teams, but in the entire league.
When Choate is on the pitching mound, he likes to keep his work space clean. He'll pick up napkins, bubble gum wrapper, paper cups or anything else that might blow near the mound. Before he gets there, however, he'll throw seven -- no more and no less -- warm -up pitches. And when he is pitching, he'll only pick up the ball from the grass and not the dirt. Even Choate's equipment bag and the hangers in his locker have to be arranged a specific way for Choate to be at ease.
Choate isn't the only Cardinals reliever to follow a unique routine to help out his team's game. Edward Mujica has his own ritual. As none other than Choate relayed to ESPN, Mujica has to be in a specific spot in the bullpen when there are two outs left in the fourth inning. At the beginning of the fifth, he digs a hole at the end of a bullpen mound and spits half of a cup of red Gatorade -- always red -- into the hole.
Atlanta Braves' Elliot Johnson has a game-day ritual that centers around bubble gum. Whenever he takes the field to play second base, he pops up a piece of Super Bubble grape-flavored gum. When his team is up at bat, Johnson switches to watermelon-flavored bubble. As Johnson told ESPN, "The hits are in the watermelon."
Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin has a special "aura spray" to help his game, one former teammate told ESPN. Quentin sprays a mist of it into the air before a game, and walks underneath to endow him with an "aura." Quentin also carries his own bedsheets on the road with him for good luck.
Jason Giambi's big-hitting career can be credited in part to the use of performance-enhancing drugs that helped Giambi get more power in his swing. Superstition also proved a potent supplement possibly when steroids weren't enough.
When Giambi can't catch a break on the plate, he mixes things up by throwing on a gold thong. While it's easy to laugh off a 6'3", 240-pound power hitter in a golden bikini, Giambi's habit supposedly worked so well that fellow teammates would occasionally share his underwear to help them whenever they were in a rut.
Former Major League baseball players Moises Alou and Jorge Posada were two guys who you wouldn't want to high-five if you saw them in the dugout. Both players believed that urinating on their hands prior to a game would help with grip and toughen the skin, according to a 2004 Slate article.
Any batter has a routine in the batter's box before stepping onto the plate. Former pro baseball player Nomar Garciaparra was notable for his intricate and time-consuming batter's box ritual. Here's a summary from the Los Angeles Times on Garciaparra's routine:
"Adjust red arm band on right arm. Tap home plate with bat. Then, quickly touch helmet bill, end of bat, then back to helmet bill. Sometimes, especially if it's his first time at bat in the game, he'll make the sign of the cross across his jersey.
Next comes a synchronized dance of glove pulling and cleat digging. While balancing his bat on his right shoulder, he yanks his batting glove with his left hand. Then, the right hand crosses over his left and it tugs on the left-hand glove. Repeat four times at least.
Meanwhile, like a cat kneading its claws into the carpet, he twists and sinks his cleats into the box while rotating his bat in tight counterclockwise circles."
Given how long that choreography took just to read, imagine every at-bat over his entire career with that same ritual.
Former major leaguer Turk Wendell is among the most notoriously superstitious players in baseball history. Wendell's routine included talking to the ball, eating licorice on the pitcher's mound, brushing his teeth between innings (possibly because of the licorice) and wearing a necklace made of teeth and nails of animals that he had hunted.