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Superstition? It’s All a Part of the Ball Game : Baseball: In the world of sports, the boys of summer are especially prone to personal voodoo.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Baltimore Orioles wear black stirrups instead of orange . . . and win a game. Slugger Mickey Tettleton puts on a Dick Tracy T-shirt . . . and breaks out of a slump. Relief pitchers pose like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures, hop over white foul lines or sing on the mound . . . and save games.

Coincidence? You decide.

Baseball players have long been a superstitious lot.

“I think everyone believes in their own way,” Tettleton says with a smile that barely cracks a jaw as square as Dick Tracy’s own.

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Tettleton gave an inadvertent boost to the big upcoming flick by letting on that he was wearing a Dick Tracy T-shirt under his uniform when he recently emerged from a frustrating slump at the plate.

“I got it in the mail, I don’t even know where it came from,” he demurs.

Tettleton probably isn’t the most superstitious Oriole--despite his current streak, he hasn’t even decided whether to keep wearing the T-shirt. But he’s the most highly publicized one when the subject comes up. During a hot streak last year, for example, it was Froot Loops: His wife revealed that the cereal was the breakfast of this particular champion, and a legend was born.

Athletes, and baseball players in particular, can be more prone to superstitions than the rest of us, experts say.

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“There is such an element of chance in baseball, it makes it vulnerable to magical thinking,” says Jim McGee, the Orioles’ former team psychologist. “And there may be the sense that baseball, compared to other sports, is extraordinarily traditional. They still do things in 1990 that they did in 1890.”

And who’s to argue with someone like Joe Orsulak? His team-leading batting average--for the third straight year--lends credibility to his particular superstition.

“I don’t like pitchers touching my bat. It’s bad luck,” the outfielder says. “I won’t use it if a pitcher’s touched it.”

Orsulak has also used a sort of personal voodoo to psyche out a pitcher who has caused him difficulty in the past: He wore a T-shirt with the pitcher’s name and face on it the next time he had to face him.

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“I got hits off him,” he reports.

But certainly the most superstitious player award on the team goes to Brian Holton. Hey kids, you, too, can be a major league relief pitcher! Clip and save:

“I get dressed the same way every day. Then I button just three buttons of my warm-up jacket. I go and get a towel and wrap it around my neck, and the tag always has to be on the right side,” Holton says. “I put two cans of Copenhagen (smokeless tobacco product) in my pocket, one from spring training and a new one. In my left pocket I carry a lasso. . . . I found a piece of rope in San Diego once (in 1988) and made a lasso out of it and we went on a winning streak.

“I always sit in the same seat in the bullpen and in the dugout,” he continues. “I come up on the mound from the first base side. I wipe the (pitching) rubber four times with each leg and spin around clockwise. I catch the ball with one foot on the dirt and one foot on the grass. I never change catchers. If he’s not ready (after batting in the last inning), I wait for him, I don’t throw to anyone else.

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“I always sing on the mound to myself, whatever they’re playing,” Holton adds. “If they’re not playing anything, I’ll sing, ‘You take the high road, I’ll take the low road.’ ”

Relief pitchers, says McGee, who was team psychologist from 1980 to 1986, may need such rituals more than other players because of the unique nature of their roles.

“Their tension level is always high, they can’t tell when they’re going in,” he says. “If they don’t perform their rituals, they feel anxious.”


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