The 10 Most Bizarre Athlete Superstitions

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Since their livelihoods rely on consistently replicating physical motions, it's hardly surprising that professional athletes are creatures of habit. However, some stars take these rituals beyond their logical extremes. Jumping over the baselines when taking the field in baseball? Pretty standard. Wearing the same cup from high school on through your pro career like Mark McGwire reportedly did? Now we're getting a little more peculiar. Here are ten of our favorite truly absurd superstitions.

1. Kevin Rhomberg // MLB

Rhomberg played just 41 games in parts of three seasons with the Cleveland Indians from 1982-84. But in that short span, the outfielder managed to establish himself as possibly the big leagues' most superstitious player ever. Rhomberg's most peculiar superstition was that if someone touched him, he had to touch that person back. Although this compulsion was not as much of a liability as it might have been in basketball or football, it still led to some odd situations. If Rhomberg was tagged out while running the bases, he'd wait until the defense was clearing the field at the inning's end to chase down the player who'd touched him.

Rhomberg also refused to make right turns while on the field--his logic was that baserunners are always turning left. So if a situation forced him to make a right turn, he'd go to his left and make a full circle to get moving in the correct direction.

2. Caron Butler // NBA

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When most of us want a glass of something heavily caffeinated that fluoresces green, we can just reach for a Mountain Dew. Sadly for veteran small forward Caron Butler, he can't do the Dew whenever he wants anymore. As Butler told Dan Steinberg of D.C. Sports Bog, during his All-American years at the University of Connecticut and his early seasons in the NBA, his game routine included guzzling a two-liter bottle of the sugary soda. Butler would throw down half the bottle before tip-off and finish it off at halftime. That is, until he joined the Washington Wizards in 2005. The Wiz forced Butler to switch to a more traditional sports drink: Water.

3. Mike Bibby // NBA

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Like fellow NBA star LeBron James, Bibby was known to nervously bite and chew his nails during games. When relegated to the bench for a breather during games with the Sacramento Kings, Bibby would obsessively pick at his nails until he stumbled across a better solution: Using fingernail clippers on the bench. The clippers became his superstition, and whenever Bibby came to the bench for timeouts, someone would hand him a set so he could go to work on his nails.

4. Jason Terry // NBA

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Bibby and Terry, college teammates at Arizona, started another odd superstition while playing for the Wildcats. The restless pair slept in their uniform shorts the night before Arizona's appearance in the 1997 NCAA championship game against Kentucky on the logic that it would make the game feel like it was starting sooner. When Terry broke into the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, he decided to start wearing the shorts of the next day's opponent instead. This ritual is required Terry to procure a pair of uniform shorts from each opposing NBA team. Although his network of connections with equipment managers and former teammates has helped him out, it isn't fool-proof. While playing for Dallas in the 2006 NBA Finals he had to wear Mavericks shorts before each game since he couldn't find a pair of trunks from the opposing Miami Heat. 

That's not Terry's only superstition, though. He wears knee-high socks as a tribute to his father, which seems normal. The catch is that Terry wears five pairs of them whenever he's on the court; he claims the extra hosiery is more comfortable. Like former third baseman Wade Boggs, Terry also insists on eating chicken before each game, a practice he also says started with Bibby at Arizona, making the 1997 Wildcats the most superstitious team to ever win the NCAA title.

5. Moises Alou // MLB

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Most baseball players wear batting gloves to absorb some of the shock of making contact with the ball and to improve their grip on the bat. A handful eschew gloves in favor of a barehanded approach, though, most famously outfielder Alou. Alou did have a system for avoiding calluses and hardening his skin: He urinated on his hands throughout the season. Longtime New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada also employed this superstition to aid in his gloveless approach at the plate. The trick may be more gross than helpful, though: a 2004 piece in Slate questioned the value of this superstition since urine contains urea, a key ingredient in moisturizers that actually soften the skin.

6. Bruce Gardiner // NHL

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Gardiner spent five years as a forward in the NHL, most notably with the Senators. His superstition was even more unsettling than Alou's: before each game, Gardiner would dip the blade of his stick in the locker room toilet. Gardiner's strange superstition started in his rookie reason in Ottawa in 1996. After going several games without a point, he asked veteran Tom Chorske for advice. Chorske told Gardiner he was treating his stick too well and needed to teach the wood to respect him by dunking it in the toilet.

Although Gardiner was initially skeptical, after his cold streak extended for a few more games, he took Chorske's advice. He then got hot and started scoring, and he kept on hitting the bathroom before games. Gardiner eventually backed off of dunking his stick regularly, but he'd still go back to the tactic to end a slump. As he told in 2007, "You tape it, you dunk it, and you don't touch it. I'd do anything for a couple of goals."

7. Ecuadorian National Soccer Team

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Ecuador's national team knew they needed help if they were to succeed at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Even after practicing and preparing as well as they could, they were still looking for an edge. They found it in Tzamarenda Naychapi, a mystic who The Guardian called a "witch doctor-cum-shaman-cum-priest-type-fella," to help enlist the aide of supernatural spirits. Naychapi supposedly visited each of the twelve stadiums being used in the World Cup and chased away any lingering evil spirits and worked a little magic on the pitches and goals themselves. By all accounts the magic worked; although Ecuador is not a traditional soccer powerhouse they defeated Poland and Costa Rica in group play to advance to the Round of 16, where they lost to England 1-0 on a David Beckham goal.

8. Turk Wendell // MLB

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The eccentric reliever pitched for four teams between 1993 and 2004, posting some solid seasons in that span. However, he's most remembered for his bizarre superstitions. Among Wendell's more notable quirks was his requirement that he chew four pieces of black licorice while pitching. At the end of each inning, he'd spit them out, return to the dugout, and brush his teeth, but only after taking a flying leap over the baseline. Wendell, an avid hunter, also took the mound wearing a necklace adorned with trophies from animals he had harvested, including mountain lion claws and the teeth of wild pigs and buffalo. When compared to these superstitions, Wendell's other little oddities (drawing three crosses in the dirt on the mound, always throwing the rosin bag down as hard as he could, and insisting figures in his contract end in 99 as a tribute to his jersey number) don't seem so strange.

9. NASCAR Drivers

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Drivers have their share of superstitions, including green cars being bad luck and reservations about carrying $50 bills. Possibly the most inexplicable, though, is their adamant refusal to deal with peanuts in their hulls. Specifically, the hulls seem to bother drivers since shelled peanuts or nuts in candy bars are perfectly kosher for the track.

No one is quite sure from where this superstition springs, but it has almost certainly been around since NASCAR's beginnings. One theory explored by Snopes traces the tradition back to a 1937 race in Nashville in which peanut shells were sprinkled on the cars of five drivers, all of whom crashed during the race. Another possible story holds that a member of NASCAR legend Junior Johnson's crew was eating peanuts when an engine blew, and the blame fell on the nuts themselves. Others claim that when racing was gaining popularity in the 1930s, mechanics would often find peanut shells from the nearby grandstands in the cylinders of engines that had failed. 

10. John Henderson // NFL

Lining up across from longtime Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Henderson would have been pretty terrifying under the best circumstances since he stands 6'7" and weighed 335 pounds in his playing days. The former University of Tennessee star had an even more intimidating pregame superstition during his days in Jacksonville, though: He would have assistant team trainer Joe Sheehan slap him open-handed across the face as hard as Sheehan possibly can. According to the Florida Times-Union, Henderson and Sheehan began the ritual during the 2003 season as a way to get Henderson amped up for the game by taking the day's first hit in a controlled environment in the locker room. Apparently the strategy worked, as Henderson twice made the Pro Bowl after Sheehan started unloading on him. This video above illustrates the superstition in all its glory with some NSFW language.

This piece originally appeared in 2008.

March 6, 2008 - 10:14am
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