Ranking MLB's Strangest Pre-At Bat Superstitions

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

Ranking MLB's Strangest Pre-At Bat Superstitions

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    Don't shake David Ortiz's hand after one of his at-bats.
    Don't shake David Ortiz's hand after one of his at-bats.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Ever the odd creatures of habit, many Major League Baseball players will stick to the weirdest routines before every at-bat.

    These odd superstitions obviously hold no bearing over the results. If FiveThirtyEight released a report showing a 56 percent offensive spike in batters who crawl to the batter’s circle, we’d witness a lot of grown men slinking to the plate on all fours.

    But creating a pattern also establishes the self-fulfilling prophecy that these weird rituals contribute to their success, thus sparking a fallacy that abandoning those quirks will cause their collapse.

    Hey, whatever works. From the synchronized movements to unsanitary spitting, here are the strangest pre-at bat routines.

8. Josh Reddick

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    Overlooked in great player entrances is the walk-up music, which can can tie the whole walk-up process together.

    Josh Reddick made sweet saxophone noise across the Internet by walking up to "Careless Whisper," Wham’s ‘80s rock ballad that propelled Oakland’s fans to gyrate seductively. It’s no Duke Silver, but we'll take it.

    That drew the most attention, but Reddick has made other excellent choices, frequently borrowing theme music from WWE stars, including fellow bearded hero Daniel Bryan.

    Most people will go the generic rout, utilizing a classic riff, which is better than turning to a top-40 hit. I don’t care what they say; I’m convinced the New York Mets cut ties with Justin Turner solely because he kept using "Call Me Maybe."

    Unfortunately, the O.co Coliseum has gone quiet with Reddick landing on the disabled list with an injured knee. At least the absence won’t cost him a championship belt.

7. Troy Tulowitzki

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    Maybe strange isn’t the best word to describe Troy Tulowitzki’s rather mundane routine, but the star shortstop sure takes his sweet time before beginning his at-bat.

    Some of you may have dove into a safe haven of a silly story about superstitions to escape us number geeks stuffing your face with data. As much as I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to find a way to categorize rituals into a batter’s WAR.

    Unfortunately for you, FanGraphs tracks everything, including which players take the longest to settle into the batter’s box. No, seriously.

    First in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and WAR, Tulowitzki knows his way around the top of the leaderboard. He also holds a more dubious first-place standing with an average pace of 27.9 seconds per plate appearance.

    No wonder MLB games take forever. Giving him four plate appearances, that’s about 1 minute and 51 seconds better spent arguing with umpires and complaining that instant replay takes too much time.

6. Jose Valverde

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    Jose Valverde is more known for his celebrations after converting the save, but his pre-mound antics are far stranger.

    Former Detroit Tigers teammate Phil Coke detailed Valverde's routine to ESPN's Tim Kurkjian.

    'Papa Grande' would always come out of the bullpen with a mouthful of water. He would spit it out, an equal amount to each side, then slap his thigh with his glove. With his hat in one hand and his glove in the other, he would run to the mound. On the way, he would never step on any line on the field. I mean, not just the foul line, any line. When the grass is cut diagonally, he'd never step on a line in the grass.

    The water-spitting, a far cry from Triple H's entrance, is one thing, but the attention to every pinpoint intricacy helps him stand out. Anybody can avoid a thick, clearly defined foul line, but the reliever takes his paranoia to the next level.

    Then there's the equality of ensuring all sides of the field receive an equal distribution of fluid, almost as if he's watering plants in his mind.

    The method hasn't helped Valverde lately. After briefly giving him a shot at their closing gig, the New York Mets cut the 36-year-old after he posted a 5.66 ERA through 20.2 innings.

5. Ichiro Suzuki

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    One of baseball's most iconic sights in the batting box, hitting machine Ichiro Suzuki points the bat out toward the pitcher's mound with his right hand while tugging at his sleeve with his left hand.

    It feels somewhat reminiscent of Babe Ruth calling his shot, but it's only accurate if Ichiro is directing his bat in between the two middle infielders. The single-season hits record holder has not generated double-digit home runs in a season since 2009.

    He also bends both his knees inward, which looks uncomfortable. But the jersey adjustment is the part that strays to the strange side. Did he organically scratch an itch one time, then stick with it permanently after getting a hit?

    At least his routine is short and to the point, and he's so anxious to reach base that he jolts out of the batter's box as he's making contact.

4. Nomar Garciaparra

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    It’s easy to forget five years after he left the game, but Nomar Garciaparra once joined Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter as a trio of young, superstar shortstops.

    Garciaparra did not enjoy nearly the same shelf life, but the 1997 Rookie of the Year hit a career .313/.361/.521. Since the Boston Red Sox traded him months before ending their World Series draught, his legacy instead rests with his enigmatic pre-at bat routine.

    The power-hitting shortstop constantly adjusted his gloves, a tick that did not subside after the at-bat. In the video above, it takes 50 seconds before the pitcher can finally toss one down the plate.

    Just think how much time everyone would have saved if someone gave him more comfortable batting gloves. Or if he went bare-handed, Vladimir Guerrero style. 

3. Turk Wendell

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    Turk Wendell retired a decade ago, but the relief pitcher’s superstitions were too bizarre to leave off this list.

    Every time he took the mound, Wendell would wave to center field until he received acknowledgment of his friendliness. He was not as kind to the rosin bag, which he always slammed to the ground like a football player spiking the ball after a touchdown.

    Not a fan of gum or tobacco, he turned to another vice, chewing four pieces of black licorice before going to work. But at least he practiced dental hygiene by brushing his teeth between innings. That beats playing with dirt while refusing to wash the same pair of lucky socks.

    Speaking of socks, he didn’t wear any. I suppose they cramped his style. He did, however, flaunt a necklace with animal teeth he obtained through hunting.

    Although he delivered a few serviceable seasons over his 11-year career, Wendell will forever be remembered for his odd superstitions.

2. David Ortiz

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    The Boston Red Sox signed David Ortiz to a $16 million extension this spring, so let’s hope he’ll invest some of that extra cash in hand sanitizer.

    In baseball’s least hygienic ritual, Big Papi spits on both hands before emphatically slapping them together. His on-field heroics have vaulted this tendency to iconic status, becoming the punchline of a SportsCenter commercial (video above) and probably leading to a bunch of emulating kids sullying their hands.

    A pitcher would face a firestorm for the same practice, but saturating his hands with saliva doesn’t embed Ortiz’s offensive productivity. But considering the designated hitter has belted 446 career home runs and won three World Series titles, he’s not likely to clean up his act now.

    To be fair, at least Ortiz wears batting gloves. Still, if I’m one of his teammates, I’m steering clear of congratulating him with a celebratory high-five in the dugout.

1. Pablo Sandoval

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    Most hitters are content with kicking the dirt or wiggling the bat a little, but Pablo Sandoval waltzes out of the batter’s box before finally settling into his turn.

    It starts off unassumingly enough, as the Kung Fu Panda strolls into the box and briefly plays with the dirt. Then he slides outside the plate toward the pitcher’s mound before seemingly heading back to start his at-bat.

    Not so fast. The antsy infielder steps back out before finally starting the typical fidgeting and swinging away. A switch-hitter, Sandoval commits to his craft on both sides, a real testament to his superstitious ways.

    Sandoval can currently use a change of pace, as the 27-year-old is posting a career-low .730 OPS this season for the first-place San Francisco Giants.