Bringing Luck to the Diamond: Superstitions in Baseball

I.U. baseball player Bill Blaise waiting for the home run ball, 1936. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

Opening Day has once again arrived for Major League Baseball, bringing with it the freshness of spring and the warmth of summer. The excitement of a brand new season instills a sense of euphoria in fans, and reminds them the long days of summer are not far behind. An April 4, 1933 clipping from the Indiana Daily Student captured the excitement of a new baseball season for students, declaring unkind those professors who dared schedule exams on the day of the first game.

Nomination for worst professors in April 4, 1933 Indiana Daily Student. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

As teams emerge from their winter hibernation and make their way back to the diamond, they will begin preparing themselves for both the physical and psychological rigors of the game. For superstitious players in particular, the baseball season can be a grueling stretch of routines and beliefs intended to build confidence and ward off bad luck. Baseball superstitions are as old as the game itself, and the very mention of the word brings a feeling of unease among players and fans. While some are humorous, some have become so ingrained in baseball culture they are now enforced as law.  Lyle Green notes some basic superstitions include never stepping on the foul line when walking on and off the field, and above all never mentioning an in-progress no-hitter.

Carl Erskine, a native of Anderson, Indiana, pitched for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 to 1959. When he was interviewed in 1973 as part of a folklore class at I.U., Erskine detailed the near paranoid levels of superstitions prevalent at the Major League level. Some of the more trivial include the Dodgers’ Leo Durocher, who as third base coach would kick third base before taking his position. Dodgers pitcher Billy Lowes was adamant on sitting in the same spot in the dugout, and always wore the same clothes when he was on the mound. Chicago Cubs first baseman/outfielder Phil Cavaretta would take two warm-up swings of the bat while in the on-deck circle. Before taking a third swing, he would spit in the air, and then hit it.

“Splat, and he was ready to hit,” Erskine recalled.

Though he was surrounded by superstitious players, Erskine himself stated that while he tried avoiding becoming engrossed in superstitions, it was nonetheless challenging to prevent being swept up in them.

“It’s so difficult that I found myself not going to the same seat on the bench, not wearing the same sweatshirt every time I pitched, not walking back the same way each time, to the point where one day I realized…well, I’m being superstitious about not being superstitious,” Erskine said.

Superstitions can be found everywhere on the diamond, including food. Good nutrition undoubtedly keeps the body healthy and in top physical condition, but for the superstitious player it can be the difference between a memorable day at the plate or one better off forgotten. Jay Grohowski, an I.U. baseball player interviewed in 1981, noted the effect something simple like a pre-game hot dog could have on a player’s day.

“You have a hot dog and you go 6-for-8 on a doubleheader, and you go home and…you think, ‘what did I have last game for lunch?’ and you have the same thing again.”

A good meal can certainly keep a player calm, but where the food is consumed can be just as important. Harold Halman, another I.U. baseball player, discussed the role of McDonald’s for a player’s success.

“So happens you go out, the team does well, and you play fairly well, and next day you go there. ‘Let’s all go to McDonald’s, like yesterday,'” Halman said.

Indiana Daily Student clipping welcoming the 1936 baseball season and encouraging fans to bring their favorite razzes to the diamond, April 7, 1936. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

Superstitions can take hold of fans in ways similar to players, though their rituals morph into a communal effort intended to will the home team to victory or support an individual player’s effort. From turning hats inside-out during rallies to tapping bobbleheads, fans become consumed in the moment, and almost work harder than the players themselves to snag victory from the opponent. While Erskine’s mother was listening to her son throw his first no-hitter in 1952, she continued ironing the same tablecloth throughout the entirety of the game, believing any attempt to stop would squander Carl’s efforts.

Clipping from April 4, 1933 Indiana Daily Student heralding a new baseball season. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

“She related my good fortune to what she was doing,” Erskine later said. “She probably felt that she had quite a bit to do with that.”

The beginning of a new baseball season signifies the oncoming days of spending long summer days basking in the sun at the ballpark. For teams and fans looking to keep bad luck at bay, the strains of the game can result in habits and routines seen as bizarre by outsiders but viewed by player’s and lovers of baseball as being essential to keeping a level head when out on the diamond.

Both the the IU Folklore Institute’s student papers collection and the IU Athletics Manager’s Books were mined for this post. If you follow those links, be warned – the student papers collection is HUGE and takes a long time to load. Click “Entire Document” on the left and then walk away for a bit while it loads!

Educating the Educators: The I.U.-Thailand Project

 

Course catalog for the College of Education, Bangkok, Thailand. (Indiana University Archives, C347, Box 2.)

Beginning in 1954 and lasting until 1962, Indiana University partnered with education officials in Thailand to bolster the country’s methods of education for new teachers. Working under a contract through the United States government, I.U. provided technical and financial assistance to Thai universities. The project’s overall goal was to “build an institution capable of providing educational experiences which would provide leadership sorely needed in Thailand’s effort to modernize its educational system” by preparing teachers to work in Thai schools, create instructional materials, and perform consultant and research work on problems in education.

The need for teachers with quality pedagogical training stemmed from the rapid expansion of the Thai education system. When Thailand passed its compulsory education law in 1921, the number of children enrolled stood at 241,508 students. By 1954, the year I.U. began offering assistance, the number had significantly risen to almost 2,900,000. While the large number of students was hailed for providing an education to a large number of Thai children, the rapidity meant “expansion was done at the expense of quality… preparation of teachers to teach in those schools.”

Dr. Robert Shaffer speaking at a conference in Thailand. (Indiana University Archives, Accn. No. 2018/116, Box 1.)

Among the I.U. faculty who went to Thailand was Dr. Robert Shaffer, who was Dean of Students from 1955 to 1969. From October 1961 to January 1962, Shaffer served as a consultant to administrators at Chulalongkorn University, providing assistance in the development of personnel services. Prior to Shaffer’s visit, all students at Chulalongkorn University took the same classes, resulting in a rigid curriculum. Shaffer worked to establish a placement bureau, an alumni association, and a counseling office. In a February 2, 1962 article in the Indiana Daily Student, Shaffer noted “we hope that the system of faculty counseling, especially in regard to entering students, will introduce more flexibility into the present program at Chulalongkorn University.” Shaffer’s efforts to create student counseling offices were hailed by officials in Thailand. In a letter to university president Herman B Wells, an official at the American embassy in Bangkok wrote, “Dr. Shaffer’s program has been one of the most successful that any American Specialist has had in this country.”

Cover of souvenir book from Chulalongkorn University. (Indiana University Archives, Accn. No. 2018/116, Box 1.)

By the time the program ended in 1962, the collaboration between I.U. and Thailand resulted in 2,638 students graduating with a Bachelor’s of Education. Bhuntin Attagar, a Director General in the Ministry of Education, wrote, “it is my belief that the Indiana University Contract has done much more in promoting international understanding and cooperation than has ever been done before in the history of Thai education.”

There are a number of records in the Archives related to IU’s work in Thailand. For more information on IU’s partnership with Prasan Mitr College of Education and the Thai Ministry of Education, see the “IU Thailand Project records, 1953-1975.” Want a closer look? Contact the Archives to schedule an appointment!

Eddie Whitehead: Breaking I.U.’s Color Barrier in Baseball

Eddie Whitehead, IU Archives, Image no. P0052290

Throughout 2019, Major League Baseball will honor the centennial of Jackie Robinson’s birth. Robinson made history in 1947 when he broke professional baseball’s color barrier by playing second base for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s courageous actions spurred the racial integration of the sport, ending decades of segregated baseball. In 1956, Robinson’s last year in the majors, Indiana University’s baseball team welcomed its first African American player, catcher Eddie Whitehead. Whitehead, a native of Madison, Indiana, joined as a sophomore and was one of five catchers on the team that year.

Though Whitehead made his debut nearly ten years after Robinson’s debut, a spring break trip through Florida and Georgia from March 26-31, 1956, illustrated the racial disharmony that was still prevalent throughout the country. At the major league level, professional baseball would not be fully integrated until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox became the last team to welcome an African American player on its roster. At the collegiate level, a strict “gentleman’s agreement” prohibiting non-professional contests between African Americans and whites was in force in the South, meaning if Whitehead played, the other teams would not play I.U. According to a March 22, 1956 press release, I.U. entered into the six games without knowledge of this agreement, thereby hindering the team’s ability to pull out of the games. After speaking with I.U. President Herman B Wells, Whitehead decided he did not want to ruin the trip for his teammates by not going, so he decided to make the journey, though he did not play as per the agreement.

In a 2017 Indiana University Bicentennial oral history interview, Whitehead’s daughter, Dr. Dawn Whitehead, recalled the stories her father told her about the trip. Traveling through the Jim Crow south was “a profound experience for him,” she said. “He often didn’t get to eat in restaurants with his teammates, and they would bring food out to the bus.” “He would also sometimes not be able to stay in the same hotels where his teammates stayed,” Whitehead recalled.

Listen to Dawn Whitehead share more memories of her father in this clip from her IU Bicentennial Oral History interview:

In a March 27, 1956, Indianapolis Times article, Eddie stated he had to eat in the hotel kitchen in Harriman, Tennessee. In Cedartown, Georgia, he ate in the car. Both times I.U. baseball coach Ernie Andres joined him. “I stayed with Eddie everywhere we went,” Andres said in an April 18, 1997 article in the Indiana Daily Student. “My only fear was that he would get hurt.”

While I.U. played Florida State, Eddie stayed at Florida A & M, a historically black college. While there, he trained with their baseball team and stayed in a dorm room. Dawn Whitehead stated staying at Florida A & M was the fondest memory of the trip for her father. Coach Andres made arrangements for Eddie to stay with African American families while the team played Florida University and Georgia Teachers. “I don’t think I could ever live down here,” Eddie said in the March 27, 1956, Indianapolis Times article. “I just couldn’t. It seems so different. Too many drawbacks.” “People look at you so cold,” Whitehead said in another Indianapolis Times article from March 28, 1956. “Like you’re something different. Like you were inferior.”

Upon the team’s return to Bloomington, Wells expressed outrage at the treatment of Whitehead. “It’s outrageous the indignities now being suffered in the South by Eddie Whitehead,” Wells stated in a March 28, 1956, Louisville Times article. “This is very distasteful to me. I’m opposed to segregation in any form. Indiana is the leader in the nation against segregation in schools as well as in athletics.” Wells received numerous letters regarding the incident. Some came from supporters, while others came from those questioning his reasoning for allowing Whitehead to go when the team knew he wouldn’t be able to play.

Scorecard from the April 24, 1956 game against Butler. Whitehead went 1-for-2 with a run scored and a triple. (Accn. # 2015/027, Box 306, “Baseball 1956.”)

Whitehead played in 12 games during the 1956 campaign. His most notable game that year occurred on April 24 against Butler. He went 1 for 2, with a triple, one base-on-balls, and two RBIs. I.U. defeated the Bulldogs in an 18-5 thrashing. At the conclusion of the season, he was awarded a varsity letter.

Whitehead graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in 1958. He became a banker, a profession in which he remained for thirty years; he also worked on the statistics crews for the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts. Whitehead passed away on September 10, 2014, at the age of 77.

Our Lives with Animals

Throughout history, humans have interacted with animals of all kinds on a daily basis. Whether it’s our beloved cat or dog at home, or a squirrel running among the trees of Dunn’s Woods, their antics captivate us, and many times we find ourselves taking photos or videos and sharing them with our friends. Animals fascinate us, and our interactions with them help us learn and develop as humans. They provide entertainment, help with work impossible for humans to carry out alone, and aid us in research.

IU Archives, image no. P0081205

The Indiana University Archives is filled with a rich, diverse collection of photos highlighting our interactions with animals, whether it be for research, for work purposes, or for our general amusement. These photos are just a small sample, but they offer a glimpse into our interactions with animals.

IU Archives, image no. P0081271

Humans rely on animals to provide assistance when jobs become too difficult to perform. Clarence Flaten was the Supervisor of Photography at the I.U. Audio Visual Center from 1948-1974, and also worked in the School of Education faculty from 1958-1974. During World War II, Flaten was photographer, primarily in India. Flaten’s collection of photos from that time illustrate the value of animals in performing tasks for humans. Whether it be an elephant lifting large barrels onto cargo planes, or a camel pulling a wagon, animals help us carry out our business and perform tasks too great for human strength. (View the finding aid for C660 Clarence M. Flaten papers here. )

IU Archives, image no. P005220

Animals provide humans with invaluable information through our observations of their behaviors and genetic makeups. Beginning in 1957, I.U.’s Department of Biology hosted a breeding colony for axolotls, a member of the salamander family also known as the Mexican walking fish. The colony supplied embryos, larvae and adults to classrooms and to labs for genetic research, specifically for their regeneration ability. The colony remained at I.U. until 2005, when it was moved to the University of Kentucky.

IU Archives, image no. P0050605

Scientific research helps us understand how a species has evolved over time. This Hoosier jellyfish, a member of the only freshwater species of jellyfish, was found in a flooded quarry near Bloomington in 1959, and used by an I.U. graduate student studying the evolution and distribution of the species.

IU Archives, image no. P0033398

For most of us though, animals above all provide a sense of entertainment. We become obsessed with them, and we are quick to share with our friends our interactions with them. Even stuffed animals can provide a sense of fun, as evidenced by the photo of I.U. President and Chancellor Herman B Wells riding a stuffed horse in South Dakota around 1927. Wells, resplendent in furry chaps, was captured riding “Black Dynamite” about three years before his arrival at IU.

IU athletics, while lacking an official mascot, experimented for a brief time with mascot ideas. Ox the Bulldog, shown here before the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue in 1959, served as the mascot for I.U. football from 1959 to the mid-1960s. Later in the decade, the football team attempted using a stuffed bison as its mascot, but this also proved to be short-lived.

IU Archives image no. P0030198
IU Archives, image no. P0048588

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether we interact with them for entertainment, work, or for research, animals help us conduct our daily business, and at the end of the day make us smile, and give us a reason to take a photo and share.