Most baseball fans are aware the rule mandating that players avoid discussion of a no-hitter being thrown by a teammate.
Few, however, realize the depth of superstition in this arena. Guys in the dugout maintain whatever routine they’re in, as changing a pattern could constitute a jinx.
In the middle of Sandy Koufax’s no-hitter in 1963, for example, Dodgers rookie Dick Calmus jumped off the bench to applaud; coach Leo Durocher told him to sit down and zip it.
Bob Brenly found himself tapping the knob of Matt Kata’s bat during the middle innings of Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2004, then couldn’t stop himself, despite the increasing pain, into the late innings. “I did not move off of that bat rack,” he said. “I knocked on that bat on every pitch. My knuckles were raw by the end of the game, but I just felt that you can’t change anything.”
During Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter, umpire Tim Tschida spent the early innings bypassing Rangers catcher Mike Stanley when it came to getting new baseballs to the mound, opting instead to throw them himself. In the ninth inning, however, Tschida let Stanley do the work. When he handed a baseball to the catcher, however, Stanley, handed it right back, refusing to tackle that kind of responsibility.
None of this even considers the concepts of warming up a reliever or making a defensive substitution, things that can conceivably project anti-karma in exactly the same way.
All of which is a lead-in to yesterday’s near-no hitter from Washington’s Scott Olsen, which he carried into the eighth inning against the Braves.
It’s fairly expected for the opposition to try to get inside a pitcher’s head in any way possible. During a no-hitter, this means making him aware that he’s headed toward potential immortality—a fact they hope will spook him. This type of bench jockeying is hardly unusual.
Ex-Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane, for example, had a habit of yelling things like, “Hey, let’s break up his no-hitter,” loud enough to reach the mound. (At least one of his teammates, Rex Hudler, didn’t appreciate it. “He didn’t have to go up there and face the guy,” said Hudler. “There were times when I’d tell him to shut up. Don’t let your mouth write checks my body can’t cash.”)
As prevalent as the strategy is, does it work? “No,” said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. “Heck no. You’d think it would, but it doesn’t.”
The Braves, however, took things a step further against Olsen, requesting in the bottom of the seventh inning that the National Park grounds crew tamp down the mound. Talk about changing things.
Two batters and eight pitches into the top of the eighth, Olsen gave up a hit. Two batters after that, he was out of the game.
(It must also be noted that prior to that inning, Washington manager Jim Riggleman did some changing of his own, sliding Adam Kennedy from second base to first to replace the ham-handed Adam Dunn, and inserted Alberto Gonzalez at second.)
Perhaps an unusual divot had formed that presented some sort of danger to Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, which required some mound maintenance. That would provide sufficient explanation.
The question for baseball fans is, when was the last time you actually saw something like that happen during the course of a game? In the vast majority of cases, the answer would be, never.
Braves manager Bobby Cox is a master strategist, and in the last season of a long and wildly successful tenure. Might he do something like this to avoid the additional pressure that being no-hit might contribute to an already struggling team?