I'm trying to remember the name of the superstitious 1940s Dodger pitcher, who, when the inning ended, would flip his mitt into the first base coaching box, then walk over and reposition it so that the fingers pointed directly toward the mound. (I'd better stop here and remind the young folks that in days of yore, players left their gloves out on the field when they came in for their turn at bat. I can't remember exactly when the Commissioner prohibited this harmless, colorful custom -- was it in the late 50s?)
Baseball players have always been notably superstitious. They don't step on foul lines or talk about no-hitters in progress. They wear the same underwear or socks for the length of a winning streak. Turk Wendell had to brush his teeth and chew licorice between innings. Wade "Chicken Man" Boggs, a good enough hitter not to solicit divine intercession, had to eat a meal of chicken before every game. Craig Biggio refused to wipe the dirt or the pine tar off his helmet for an entire season. Baseball is where the Curse of the Bambino and the Curse of the Billy-Goat are items of faith. It's also where players wear gold crosses in their ears and ostentatious floppy crucifixes around their necks and point triumphantly to the sky when they bloop a single to center.
Chewing licorice and making the sign of the cross are equally effective procedures, as far as I can tell. The only difference is that one is a private superstition while the other has the sanction of religion. It's individual delusion versus mass delusion.
At this writing, the biblethumpatudinous Colorado Rockies, baseball's most Christian-y organization -- the only team with a chaplain on its payroll -- have won twenty-one of twenty-two games and will (after an eight-day timeout) head for their first-ever Series. It's astounding and wonderful, and I'm rooting for the home town boys. But my enthusiasm is tempered because fanatics are already calling it "a miracle," or "destiny," or claiming that "it's meant to be." Baseball's a gritty, subtle game, and the Rocks are winning because they're playing excellent defense, getting timely hits, making great pitches at the crucial moments, and committing very few mental errors -- not because of their prayer circle or their morning bible study or because the Great Signifier in the Sky has decided that this year, the Rockies are kosher and the Diamondbacks are treyf.
But, say the superstitious, it's unlikely that any team could take twenty-one of twenty-two. Of course it's unlikely. But if statistics tells us anything, they tell us that even unlikely events will occur some of the time.
Here's what's genuinely unlikely: that the Rockies' shortstop, Troy Tulowitski, who (if there's any justice under the heavens) will be soon named rookie of the year, has a "Christian" name that is an acronym for The Rookie Of Year. What, pray tell, are the odds? And also, that the Rockies' have a catcher, Yorvit Torrealba, whose name is an anagram for "real toy vibrator." Such an extraordinary unlikelihood has never happened before and it's never going to happen again, and it's entirely more remarkable than any winning streak, however extended. Yorvit Torrealba is one of those gosh-darned superstitious sky-pointers. It would suit my Manichean view of the world if Yorvit would also point downward, toward Sheol or Gehenna or whatever is supposed to be down there, every time he futilely chases a high fast ball, which he does far too frequently.
I would also like to point out that the Rockies have a reliever named LaTroy Hawkins, whose name would also anagrammatize into "real toy vibrator" if he would simply rechristen himself LaTroy Riverboat. Coincidence? Or destiny.