Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why are baseball players so superstitious?


Wade Boggs was one of the best hitting players in the game. He hit for a career average of .328 and is widely regarded as one of the top third baseman ever. His departure from Boston to the Yankees is still a sore spot in the history of those two teams. This doesn't happen with less important players. Wade Boggs was a talented, important player.
Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game. He had his standard routine that mandated that chicken dinner before he stepped on the field. One of the best players to don a uniform still was superstitious to the point he had to follow his routine. He wasn't and isn't the only one.
In football, basketball, hockey and soccer, a sheer force of effort, strength and will can get you to the promised land. In baseball, there is only so much you can control. A ball getting hurtled at 90mph in which you are striking with a bat only a few inches across? It's really hard to dictate exact trajectories or directions at this point, for either the pitcher or the batter. The pitcher may induce a ground ball (favorable for the pitcher) and have it roll just a couple feat right of the second baseman (favorable for the batter) Or, if a fraction of a second is off on the bat speed, it might go right at the second baseman. You can't tell me that there is anything the hitter or pitcher can do.
Well, there is a little bit. The pitcher could keep the ball down, and the likelihood of that ball being hit on the ground is controllable. Baseball statistics have come a long way lately to explain how much of the game is luck. Strikeouts, walks, homeruns, those are all results that are completely controlled by the pitcher or batter. Every other element of the game, even though the statistics are still attributed to them, have at least some element of luck.
Sure, hitting more line drives helps, (as it did Boggs and does Joe Mauer) but look at Boggs 1992 season. He had a career batting average for balls in play of .344. In 1992, it was .261. What changed, but luck? Hard to say, since I was 9 and don't remember. As a result, his batting average was down about .70 points from the season before, and .60 from the season following.
When so much of the game depends on luck. Why not be at least a little superstitious.

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