Dealing With Slumps, Superstition

Anything For A Hit: Blue Jays Catcher Chases Success With Razor Power

Danny Jansen is a greedy SOB. The evidence is right there before us.

About a month ago, on June 21, the Blue Jays catcher was batting a woeful .166, with two home runs on the season. Over the next 18 games, however, 17 of which he started, he hit .355 with six homers, raising his average 50 points in the process. Sure, Jansen had gone hitless in the final two of those games, last Wednesday and Thursday, but he’d barely played in one of them and totaled only three at-bats.

Still, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nature of his recent hot streak was indelibly compromised. After putting up zeroes in his first three at-bats against the Tigers on Friday—even in the face of an offensive barrage by his team, in a game the Jays would win 12-1—Jansen could take no more. He returned to the clubhouse during the late innings and shaved his mustache.

Whatever works, right? In 1977, Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion tried breaking out of a slump—to heat up, as it were—by getting into an industrial clothes drier and having teammate Pat Zachary turn it on. Concepcion singed off much of his hair. He also got three hits against the Cubs.

That, though, was mild. In 1993, Reds pitcher Jose Rijo—who’d gone 10 starts without a win—returned to his home in the Dominican Republic during the All-Star break and sacrificed two goats to the Baseball Gods. He’d have normally killed only one, he said, according to The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, but he “wanted to make sure.” Sure enough, Rijo won his first game back, and went 8-4 in the season’s second half.

Entire organizations have even been known to get in on the act. In 1951, the Indians—trying anything to beat Yankees southpaw Eddie Lopat, who boasted a 30-6 record against them over the course of his career—passed out 15,000 rabbits’ feet to fans, one of whom actually raced onto the field during the game to throw a black cat (or at least a gray kitten) at the pitcher. Cleveland put up five runs in the first inning against Lopat en route to an 8-2 victory. In Lopat’s next start against them, the Indians won, 8-0.

As for Jansen, he explained after the game that he’d done something similar last season in Triple-A. “I was DHing, and I did it,” he said in a New York Post report. “I struck out my first time, and I went in and shaved and got like a couple hits after, so I gave it another shot tonight.”

Sure enough, after going 0-for-3 to that point on the day (and 0-for-his-last-6 overall), Jansen collected a hit in his next at-bat, a seeing-eye single to left that brought home two runs.

Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman was right there with him. “Whatever to get knocks, man,” he said. “He shaved it off, and double-RBI single. Whatever for knocks.”

So okay, maybe totems work. Then again, Jansen has gone only 1-for-10 since that point, bringing his season average back down to .210. Maybe it’s time to grow another mustache.

Dealing With Slumps, Mark Kotsay

There’s More Than One Way to Bust a Slump

Kevin Youkilis' energy drink.

Baseball is a game of failure. Those who explain it to the uninitiated frequently cite the fact that even the best hitters falter seven out of every 10 trips to the plate. Even then, these great players—the .300 hitters and 40-homer swatters—suffer through extended periods during which their established standards of success are nowhere to be found.

These are the days of the slump, and hitters will do virtually anything to avoid them.

Individual superstitions include such tactics as refusing  to change underwear and switching up ordinary routines in extraordinary ways. Dave Concepcion once crawled into a Wrigley Field industrial clothes dryer in an effort to heat up, then collected three hits against the Cubs. Others attempt to bed unattractive women. (“The bigger, the fatter, the uglier, the better,” said ex-pitcher Bob McClure, describing the concept while stopping short of admitting to his own practice of it. “It never failed,” he said. “Either the team went on a winning streak or the guy came out of the slump. It was automatic.”)

More interesting are team-wide solutions. When Frank Robinson managed the Indians, he grew so desperate to jump-start Cleveland’s offense that for one game he had members of the starting lineup draw their positions in the batting order from a hat. (This led to Boog Powell, 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, batting leadoff for the first time in his career.)

Duane Kuiper was also a member of that team (he batted fourth that day, despite having so little power that he hit but a single homer over the course of his 12-year career). Years later he sought motivation for his struggling Giants by bringing the loudest alarm clock he could find into the dugout, in an effort to wake his teammates’ slumbering bats. Bill Caudill once dressed up like Sherlock Holmes, to better find Toronto’s missing offense.

On Tuesday, the White Sox did some slump-busting of their own.

Outfielder Mark Kotsay is batting just .221, and even the balls he’s hit hard recently have turned into outs—including having a home run taken away by an over-the-wall grab by Ichiro on Monday. So his teammates decided to mix things up for him.

Before a game against Seattle, Mark Teahen absconded with two of Kotsay’s bats, and during team stretch set them on fire.

“There are quirky things like changing your uniform or your undershirt or your shoes, but (I’ve never heard of) burning bats,” said Kotsay in the Chicago Tribune.

It’s too soon to tell if it worked, but it’s not the first time players have resorted to fire in an effort to staunch a slump.

In 1999, the Dodgers held a ceremonial cap burning in their bullpen—which wasn’t enough, as they went on to lose their sixth straight and finished the season at 77-85.

Even more pronounced was the bonfire set in the Rangers’ dugout in 1994, in the middle of a game against the Angels.

It was started by players Chris James and Gary Redus, who for kindling used the ratty, red high-top cleats Jose Canseco had been wearing since spring training. Canseco’s reluctance to upgrade his footwear had so offended the sensibilities of his teammates that James hid the shoes before the game, forcing Canseco to don a new pair. When the slugger responded by hitting two home runs in the first three innings, the decision was made to ensure he’d never his old shoes back. There was no time to wait. A bottle of rubbing alcohol was procured from the trainer’s room, somebody found a match and the immolation began.

As the flames grew, members of the Rangers bench started dancing around the pyre.

“I looked over there from first base and said, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ ” said Texas first baseman Will Clark. “Then I heard what they had done. I couldn’t see, I was laughing so hard.”

The catch: His teammates might not have realized it, but Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers was in the middle of throwing a perfect game at the time.

Rogers, however, was so focused that he never noticed the plume of smoke emerging from the dugout, and remained oblivious until he was told what happened once the game was over. “I like that,” he said. “We’ll burn the rest of his shoes if that’s what it takes.”

– Jason