LIVINGSTONE: I love vinyl. No, not what you’ll find on the side of the house – although it does appeal to me as my siding of choice when I become a homeowner – but what the needle drops on. Listening to records helps me relax – or boogie, or blow of steam, depending on the mood – and I happened to be listening to Stevie Wonder’s 1972 release Talking Book tonight when the song Superstitious began blaring from my older-than-my-grandmother record player (it’s not, but it’s sure close).
The song got me thinking about the superstitions of athletes. Jumping over the baselines, tying cleats or skates a certain way, putting on equipment in a specific order, eating a certain piece of fruit before a game, wearing the same pair of underwear in games you pitch (I hope no one actually does the last one), but whatever it is, athletes have them. Hell, baseball in general has a number of superstitions (see: Top 50 Superstitions and rituals in baseball on Bleacherreport.com), followed by players and fans alike.
This brings me the ultimate man of superstition. So ultimate he was named the most superstitious athlete in professional sports by Men’s Fitness magazine. He did a kangaroo-like jump over the baseline every time he ran on and off the field, he brushed his teeth in between innings, he wore number 99 in honour of Rick ‘The Wild Thing’ Vaughan from Major League.
Hell – his contract with the New York Mets was signed for $9,999,999.99 – in honour of his number.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Turk Wendell.
Quirky, outspoken and full of out-there antics, Wendell was a fan favourite wherever he played. Drafted in 1988 by the Atlanta Braves, the eccentric reliever got his major league debut in 1993 with the Chicago Cubs (he was traded in 1991 and pitched two years in the minors). It wasn’t a great start to his career – he pitched in only a handful of games in 1993 and 1994 before coming into his own in 1995. In three years with the Cubs he pitched in 187 games and posted a 3.88 ERA with the club before a late-season trade in 1997 to the New York Mets.
With the Mets, he lead the team in 1999 and 2000 in appearances and in five seasons posted a 3.34 ERA and a 22014 record over 285 appearances.He never did get the elusive championship ring, but came close with the Mets when the team played its crosstown rivals The Yankees in the subway series of 2000. his career began to decline after that series. He landed with the Phillies the following season, was on the DL in 2002 after elbow surgery, pitched for the Phillies in 2003 and then made some short stops with the Colorado Rockies before being cut.
In many ways, Wendell’s antics on the field inspired many young baseball players – well, maybe just me, but who really knows – to pick up some of those superstitious antics and make them their own. Now, I don’t think I would let a baseball thrown by the umpire hit me in the chest – Wendell requested the ump roll the ball to him on the mound, and if he didn’t he would let it go past him, or hit him in the chest.
Yeah, it’s strange, but hey, we’ve got our quirks. Waving to the center fielder waiting for him to wave back before you pitched the start of an inning, yeah, it’s strange, but if I was the center fielder and the game was close, I wouldn’t be messing with Wendell’s routine.
Stats aside, Wendell was a weird dude. Sure, rituals and superstitions are commonplace in the game of baseball, but it seems not as openly strange or visible like the days of Turk. In thinking about what Turk-esque like players are out there in the game today, none really come to mind. Giants closer Brian Wilson might be the closest thing to the Turk – but wearing a Onesie suit to the ESPY and just talking like you’ve been drunk you’re entire life, I don’t think that necessarily counts. He’s just strange.
So to Turk, thank you for making superstitions known to the baseball world. And thanks for making knee-high socks an acceptable thing.
Check out The Bleacher Report’s Top 10 list on Wendell’s antics.