5 Ghosts Haunting The Sports World

Getty Images
Getty Images

As baseball season cranks up, so will talk about hardball's various paranormal activities. This year will likely feature more talk than ever about the Curse of the Billy Goat, the hex that's supposedly played a role in the Chicago Cubs not winning the World Series in a century. The Billy Goat and Babe Ruth aren't sports' only prominent ghosts, though. Here are a few spooks that might not have frightened you yet.

1. Eddie Plank

Plank was Major League Baseball's first left-handed pitcher to win 300 games, and he ended his illustrious career in1917 with an impressive 326 victories against just 194 losses. You'd think all that pitching would have made him eager to move on to other endeavors, but apparently not. Although Plank passed away in 1926, he's still trying to pitch.

In 1996, the Hall of Famer apparently got the urge to start pitching again. In the middle of the night, the owner of the Gettysburg, PA, house where Plank had died heard a repetitive series of noises. A man would grunt, then there would be a thud and the sound of footsteps. Apparently, Plank was launching pitches to a catcher, who would occasionally have to chase down an errant toss. The owner determined that not only must the noises have come from Plank's ghost, but that the "ball" was traveling sixty feet, six inches, exactly the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate in baseball. The noises supposedly stopped within a month of the first pitch, possibly because ghosts play a shorter season than living baseball players.

2. The Hockey Hall of Fame

The Toronto home of the Hockey Hall of Fame is a repository of memorabilia and anecdotes about some of the greatest players in hockey history. However, the ghost that allegedly haunts the building probably never skated a shift in her life.

Since moving to its current digs in 1993, the Hall has enjoyed the company of Dorothy, the ghost of an employee of the Bank of Montreal branch formerly housed in the building. As the legend goes, Dorothy was a vivacious teller at the bank when, in 1953, she showed up for work early and promptly shot herself. Legends can't seem to agree on exactly where or why the young woman took her own life, but whatever her motivations, Dorothy wasn't gone long. Soon after her death, employees started hearing noises in the bank late at night and noticed that things were inexplicably moving around on their desks. Visitors and employees continue to report hearing Dorothy walking around, encountering cold spots, and feeling a presence while in the Hall.

3. Owen Hart

Professional wrestler Owen Hart tragically fell to his death while he was being lowered into the ring for a WWF show in Kansas City's Kemper Arena in 1999. Earlier this year the Kansas City Star ran a small item commenting on a "Haunted America" column that suggested Hart's ghost now haunts the arena.

The reports were somewhat vague, but employees claimed to have seen Hart walking the rafters while dressed in his Blue Blazer costume, the gimmick he was portraying when he died. The same witnesses claimed to have seen the cable that Hart used for his descent into the arena, and some claimed lights in the arena flickered during these sightings.

4. George Gipp

The Notre Dame football star who inspired Knute Rockne's famous "Win one for the Gipper" speech may still be lurking around campus. Gipp was the first Fighting Irish player to make the All America team, but his life was tragically cut short when he contracted pneumonia and died in 1920 at just 25 years old. Gipp allegedly caught the illness that ended his life while sleeping on Washington Hall's steps one evening; soon after his death, students started hearing strange noises throughout the building. Papers would rustle under doors late at night, and horns would mysteriously sound with no apparent source.

By 1925, there were reports of Gipp riding a white horse up the same steps, and Gipp's spectral legend started to grow. Others have claimed Gipp materializes on Washington Hall's dramatic stages and set rooms. If it's truly the ghost of Gipp stalking around the building, he has a fresh reason to be upset; last November his body was exhumed and stripped of a femur to settle a long-standing paternity suit.

5. Frontier Field

Frontier Field was built in Rochester in 1996. It's currently the home to the Rochester Red Wings of baseball's International League. It's also home to a whole slew of ghosts. According to a 2005 report aired by ESPN, construction of the stadium unearthed some human bones, and soon stadium workers suspected that the grounds might be haunted.

In 2004, these suspicious employees brought in a team of ghost experts from Rochester Paranormal to have a look at the stadium. The investigators claimed that they encountered a number of ghosts of people who had previously lived in the area, some of whom were ecstatic that their old haunts had been converted into something as much fun as a baseball stadium. Research director J. Burkhart also took several photographs during the investigation that showed floating heads, smoky entities, and other paranormal activity. Given their experiences at the stadium, Rochester Paranormal concluded that the stadium was definitely haunted, making Frontier Field the world's first "officially" haunted stadium.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

Why Are Marathons 26.2 Miles Long?

iStock/ZamoraA
iStock/ZamoraA

What's the reason behind the cursed distance of a marathon? The mythical explanation is that, around 490 BCE, the courier Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to delivers news that the Greeks had trounced the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The trouble with that explanation, however, is that Pheidippides would have only covered a distance of approximately 25 miles. So what accounts for the extra 1.2 miles?

When the modern marathon appeared in the late 19th century, the race distance was inconsistent. During the first Olympic games in 1896, runners jogged along Pheidippides’s old route for a distance of 40,000 meters—or 24.85 miles. (That race, by the way, was won by a Greek postal worker.) The next Olympic games saw the distance bumped to a pinch over 25 miles. And while subsequent marathons floated around the 25 mile mark, no standard distance was ever codified.

Then the Olympics came to London. In 1908, the marathon, which stretched between Windsor Castle and White City Stadium in London, lasted 26.2 miles—all for the benefit of England's royal family.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. Like previous races, the original event was supposed to cover a ballpark of 25 miles. The royal family, however, had other plans: They wanted the event to start directly in front of Windsor Castle—as the story goes, the royal children wanted to see the start of the race from the castle nursery. Officials duly agreed and moved the starting line, tacking on an extra mile to the race.

As for the pesky final 0.2? That was the royal family’s fault, too. The finish line was extended an extra 385 yards so the race would end in front of the royal family’s viewing box.

Those extra 1.2 miles proved to be a curse. The race’s leader, an Italian pastry chef named Dorando Pietri, collapsed multiple times while running toward the finish line and had to be helped to his feet. One of the people who came to his aid was a journalist named Arthur Conan Doyle. Afterward, Conan Doyle wrote about Pietri's late-race struggles for the Daily Mail, saying, "Through the doorway crawled a little, exhausted man ... He trotted for a few exhausted yards like a man galvanized into life; then the trot expired into a slow crawl, so slow that the officials could scarcely walk slow enough to keep beside him."

After the London Olympics, the distance of most marathons continued to hover between 24 and 26 miles, but it seems that Conan Doyle's writing may have brought special attention to the distance of 26.2, endowing it with a legendary "breaker-of-men" reputation. Indeed, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation convened to standardize the marathon, they chose the old London distance of 26 miles and 385 yards—or 26.219 miles.

Writing for Reuters, Steven Downes concluded that, "the marathon race may have been as much a Conan Doyle creation as Sherlock Holmes."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Good Luck, Gritty: 8 Sports Mascots that Struck Out

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

This September, Philadelphia introduced us to Gritty, the new mascot of their hockey team, the Flyers. A spiritual cousin to the town's other brightly colored eccentric, the Phillie Phanatic, Gritty is already beloved by his city and the internet alike for his outrageous (though sometimes frightening) appearance and antics. But not all mascots make their way into the hearts of the masses the way Gritty has—and not all of them should. Here are eight mascots who struck out from across pro sports.

1. DANDY // NEW YORK YANKEES

A game at Yankee Stadium is usually more about the business of baseball than a fun day for the family—but starting in 1979, a pinstriped, mustachioed, Phanatic-like creature named Dandy could be found roaming through the stands at Yankee Stadium, in an attempt to delight children in the crowd. His weird Big Bird body was made entirely out of a furry, classic Yankees uniform and was accented with a bright orange handlebar moustache and orange hair sticking out from under his sideways ballcap. Needless to say, Dandy disappeared into obscurity quickly; by 1981, he was toast. In fact, in 1998, longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner claimed he had "no recollection" of Dandy's existence.

2. BOOMER // COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

In 2010, the Columbus NHL franchise introduced Boomer the Cannon, another mustachioed mascot, along with their then-new alternate uniforms. Though Boomer was made in the image of the goal cannon in the Blue Jackets arena, his drab color scheme and generally phallic appearance were off-putting to fans. After his less than stellar reception, Boomer was "unceremoniously resigned mid-season," according to Columbus Alive, the city's entertainment magazine.

3. CHIEF NOC-A-HOMA // ATLANTA BRAVES

One of the longer lasting mascots on our list, and certainly the most offensive, Chief Noc-A-Homa represented the Atlanta Braves for 20 years (though he was first introduced in 1953, when the team was in Milwaukee). One of the many examples of objectionable depictions of Native Americans in professional sports, Chief was given a teepee in the stadium that he was meant to emerge from to perform a ceremonial dance when the Braves would, uh, knock a homer. After disputes over payment, the third Chief Noc-A-Homa was retired in 1986 and hasn't been seen since.

4. BONNIE BREWER // MILWAUKEE BREWERS

The Milwaukee Brewers have one of the most vibrant and recognizable mascot cultures in pro sports with their popular sausage race during the sixth inning. However, long before the sprinting meat, there was Bonnie Brewer. Bonnie, clad in lederhosen and a Brewers hat, would emerge in the middle of the fifth inning to help the grounds crew clean up the infield, sweeping each base clean. She would also give the opposing team's third base coach a kiss on the cheek when passing. As antiquated as the role sounds now, the women who played Bonnie fondly remember their experience. "For Pete's sake," Anne Haines, the final woman to play Bonnie, quipped this year, "it got a woman on the field!"

5. PIERRE THE PELICAN // NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

True, Pierre still roams the stands of the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, but not in his original form. When Pierre was first introduced in October 2013 as the new mascot of the Pelicans basketball team, he had deep, dark pupils and a red beak, presumably colored with the blood of his enemies and prey. Kids and adults alike were rightfully put off by Pierre's appearance, and almost immediately the team announced that he needed "plastic surgery" to fix a "broken beak." Looks like he got an eye lift and hair cut while he was at it, too.

6. CRAZY CRAB // SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

All of these mascots were retired, at least in part, due to their lack of popularity, but none has been as downright hated and abused as the Giants' Crazy Crab, who only served one season in 1984. The hate was by design, oddly enough—fans were encouraged to boo and throw objects at the Crab, and players would push him around, too. Crazy Crab's suit had to be lined with a fiberglass shell to protect from actor Wayne Doba from the various bottles, batteries, and urine-filled balloons thrown at him. The legend Crazy Crab left is one well-known. ESPN produced a 30 for 30 short on his tenure as an "anti-mascot," and when he made a quick return in 2008, he was greeted with sneers, jeers, and beers to the face.

7. THUNDER // GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

What did Thunder ever have to do with the Warriors? Good question! No one really knows!

Thunder's blue physique and lightning-bolted head stood out as the proud logo and mascot for the Warriors in the '00s before their elegant redesign and rise to prominence. A sort of statuesque, superhero Adonis, Thunder was known for his high-flying stunt baskets and halftime shows in Oracle Arena. Unfortunately, he had to be let go in 2008 when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City and renamed their team the Thunder. The Warriors haven't had a mascot since.

8. METTLE THE MULE // NEW YORK METS

The anthropomorphic baseballs that are Mr. and Mrs. Met are quite possibly the loveliest couple in the MLB. But once upon a time before the team moved to their current Citi Field location, Mettle the Mule walked the foul line at Shea Stadium in 1979. Given his name by a fan, Mettle was meant to embody the "spirit, ardor, stamina, and courage" of the New York Mets. Mettle has been forgotten in large part because he was a real mule, not a goofy mascot, and also, almost no one went to Mets games during the 1979 season.

BONUS: KING CAKE BABY // NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Apparently New Orleans is gunning to be the horror capital of the mascot world. Not to be outdone by Pierre the Pelican's original, frightening appearance, the team also introduced the King Cake Baby, a cartoonish, nightmare-inducing giant newborn meant to emulate the good luck charm found in the traditional Mardi Gras pastry. Each year, King Cake Baby terrorizes NOLA during Mardi Gras (even if he often comes bearing colorful king cake). Good luck sleeping, New Orleans!

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