September is upon us, which means there is a month left of the baseball season, and a month left for the Indians to sink or swim when it comes to their postseason chances. Even if it’s just a wild card spot, the Indians have a slight opportunity to play beyond the end of the regular season. What’s it going to take to get them through that postseason push, though? Is it going to be a stretch of outstanding starting pitching, a sudden burst in offense, or a lights-out bullpen? Or is it going to take some help from something off the field, a mental shift, for the Indians to push themselves deeper into October baseball?
Are fans going to see a rise in superstitions and lucky charms?
Baseball is nothing if not a superstitious sport. Whether it’s a player wearing certain clothing after he’s started a hitting streak or a team relying on a good luck charm to break a slump, the idea that good fortune comes from something outside the realm of talent is a notion that has been with baseball for ages.
The Indians are no stranger to superstitions and good luck charms, as they’ve used various forms of good luck throughout their years, especially during playoff pushes.
In 1997, during one of the Indians most recent stints in the playoff race, the team relied on high socks as a form of good luck. Inspired by slugger Jim Thome, the Indians collectively wore high socks for the first time on Thome’s birthday on August 27, 1997. They went on to win nine of their next 11 games and eventually reach the World Series.
The Indians brought back the high socks in 2011 when Thome returned to the team, originally only planning to wear the socks up on his birthday. However, Joe Smith believed in the power of the socks and persuaded his teammates to wear the sock high right off the bat from Thome’s first game back with the Tribe.
Thome himself seemed to believe in the power of the socks, as he is quoted in a story on MLB.com saying that it was nice to wear the socks again.
“It was similar to ’97,” Thome said in the story published on August 26, 2011. “And everyone knows we went to the World Series that year. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Clothing has long been a vital part of superstition, as this season has also demonstrated. During their six-game win streak in May 2013, the Indians repeatedly wore their blue uniforms, not switching to a different jersey until they lost. Once the winning streak was snapped, however, the team switched back to rotating between the various road and home jerseys, working to find another pattern that would work.
However, the good luck did not come in the form of a jersey in 2013, but rather in the form of a chicken. The rally chicken, to be exact.
It is joked about in the movie “Major League” that a live chicken should be sacrificed to end Pedro Cerrano’s slump, though the team provides him with fried chicken instead. In September 2013, the Indians took it a step farther when Justin Masterson brought a live chicken to the field for Cody Allen, who had been nicknamed “Chicken Al” during spring training. However, the chicken did more than simply boost morale and create a few laughs, as the Indians scored four runs in the first inning and beat the Orioles that night, and won eight out of 12 games since the rally chicken appeared prior to the game on September 17, 2013.
The animal kingdom has been a friend the Indians for quite some time, as midges proved vital in Game 2 of the ALDS in 2007. With bugs distracting Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, the Indians defeated the Yankees 2-1 in 11 innings. Seagulls were also on the Indians side in June of 2009 during a game against Kansas City, becoming Cleveland’s very own angels in the outfield. A seagull deflected a hit from Shin-Soo Choo to center field, which allowed Mark DeRosa to score and the Indians to win 4-3.
Along with clothes and animals, actions and trends have been apparent in the repertoire of Indians traditions and superstitions.
The 2007 Indians had Rally Pies, a trend developed by Trot Nixon who would pie a star player in the face after an especially good game – most frequently, after a walk-off win. The trend became so frequent in the 2007 season that rally pies became a heavily acknowledged gimmick, with graphics on the scoreboard and anticipation building for the next individual to be pied, as it became as much a trend within the ballpark for fans as it did for players. Although the Indians lost the 2007 ALCS to the Red Sox, the idea of the Rally Pie brought excitement to fans and players alike through the stretch of success.
Last season, the Indians grew Rally ‘Staches to keep the momentum alive throughout the season. Players who were unable to grow the appropriate amount of facial hair even stuck fake mustaches on their faces to take part in the trend. While it led to some creepy looking players, it helped keep morale up and gave players something to turn to if they felt they needed an extra push.
So what will it take this year for the Indians to find themselves on a winning streak? Will rookies Francisco Lindor, Giovanny Urshela, Cody Anderson, and Austin Adams need to wear their cheerleader uniforms before or after every game? With Rally Beards become a trend? Are fans going to see Rally Chipmunks down on the field to usher in success?
There’s still a month left for the team to decide what it’s going to take to make a playoff push this year. Until then, fans can only hope that the team plays in a way that looks like they’re at least thinking about playing the game beyond the beginning of October.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer