Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays supplement teamwork with superstitions

Rays groundskeepers display “lucky” meatballs to recapture the magic of their “lucky” hot dogs, left, only in a photo now.


Rays groundskeepers display “lucky” meatballs to recapture the magic of their “lucky” hot dogs, left, only in a photo now.

ST. PETERSBURG — There are lots of rational reasons why the Tampa Bay Rays are winning this year.

Talented players who work as a team. A steady coach. A resilient bullpen.

Then there were the shriveled hot dogs hanging in the groundskeepers' lockers.

The crew believes they cast a winning spirit over the Rays' season — until someone threw them out.

"I wouldn't have climbed through a Dumpster if I didn't think so," said James Michael, 25, of Pasadena, who searched through trash bags for the missing talismans this season. "We were pretty distraught."

Superstition has long been part of baseball's history. The Curse of the Bambino was often cited as the reason the Red Sox didn't win a World Series title for 86 years. For the Rays, a relatively new team with young players, not all subscribe to the weird routines and irrational rules of baseball superstition.

"I used to be all about them, but I try not to be this year," shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "It drives you crazy."

Like "Chicken Man" Wade Boggs — one of the Rays' first players and the only Hall of Famer to have played for the club — pitcher J.P. Howell has a pregame eating ritual: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of Doritos. His mother made the meal for him in high school, and he pitched so well he kept it up through college and into the pros.

Even the Rayhawk has a hint of magic.

In 2006, outfielder Jonny Gomes changed his hairdo to get him out of a batting slump. He said he wanted to "mix things up, clear everyone's head." Now hundreds have them, and the Rays are in the second round of the playoffs.

Anthropologist George Gmelch wrote that superstition develops in baseball because two of the main activities — hitting and pitching — are filled with risk and uncertainty. The performance of a player in large part depends on chance and the other team. So players try to control the outcome with confidence-boosting rituals.

"I can't think of a more superstitious sport than baseball," said outfielder Gabe Gross, who played football at Auburn. He doesn't have any superstitions but chalks it up to the number of games played in baseball. In a long season, players can see patterns and attribute them to coincidences.

That's how the grounds­keepers came to believe in the hanging hot dogs.

One night in April, the groundskeepers had franks for dinner. They hung some of them in an unused locker, a kind of science experiment.

The Rays started winning. And kept winning.

Then, in the miserable ninth inning of an 11-8 loss to the Twins that delayed a playoff berth, one of the crew looked in the locker. The hot dogs were gone.

They realized their power.

Fortunately, someone had taken a picture of the hot dogs a few days before they vanished. The picture went up in the locker, along with a meatball and a half they hoped would bring the same good luck.

"It's there in spirit," Michael said.

The meatball parts did not preserve as well as the hot dogs. They are now black and white, hairy and hardly recognizable.

But still, they hang.

And the Rays are slugging it out with the Red Sox, the World Series in sight.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or

Rays supplement teamwork with superstitions 10/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up


    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  2. Rays journal: Alex Cobb brilliant, Alex Colome worrying in 10-inning victory (w/video)

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — RHP Alex Cobb couldn't have been much better for the Rays on Tuesday, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning while working eight solid. And Alex Colome couldn't have been much worse, blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead.

    Rays starter Alex Cobb carries a no-hitter into the seventh and pitches eight shutout innings in his best outing of the season.
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Pirates game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb continues to look better and better, which could make the decision whether to trade him tougher. Cobb had a no-hitter through six and threw his biggest pitch with a 1-0 lead in the seventh, getting Josh Bell to roll into a double play.

  4. For good of the Rays, Tim Beckham should embrace move to second

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The acquisition of slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria said a lot of things, most notably that the Rays are serious about making in-season moves to bolster their chances to make the playoffs, with a reliever, or two, next on the shopping list.

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 27:  Tim Beckham #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after scoring during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 700011399
  5. Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Pittsburgh

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Pirates

    7:05, PNC Park, Pittsburgh

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Blake Snell #4 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)