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!

Coach Billy Thom and His Boys: The Indiana University Wrestling Team, 1929-1932

Delmas E. Aldridge, 1932

The art of scrapbooking is a pastime that many partake in to highlight an important event or period within their life.  It serves a special function, as when one is feeling reminiscent, one can simply take out the scrapbook and reflect on their past events.  Thus, when becoming a member of the Indiana University wrestling team, Delmas E. Aldridge decided to keep a scrapbook documenting the process of the team and its members through collecting newspaper clippings and photographs.

Delmas Eilar Aldridge was born on January 5, 1911 in Atlanta, Indiana.  He graduated from Kokomo High School in 1928 and then attended Indiana University from 1928-1932.  While attending school, Aldridge decided to become involved in extracurricular activities, as many students do. When he joined the Indiana University wrestling team, he stated “I was one of the few that had no wrestling experience, as Kokomo High School had no team.  What success I had I owe to Coach Billy Thom.” (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Indiana University Wrestling Team, 1930-1931 First row, second from the right: Delmas E. Aldridge

Aldridge was a member of the Indiana University wrestling team from 1929-1932.  He was the first person to wrestle in the newly built Fieldhouse, now known as the Wildermuth Intramural Center as part of the IU Recreational Sports Facility.  During the 1929 opening season match against Cornell, the wrestling match was held immediately after the Indiana-Pittsburgh basketball game.  Thus, the largest crowd in the history of the mat game attended the opening season match in the Fieldhouse; luckily, Aldridge won the match for his weight class.  In addition, Aldridge won his first conference match against Purdue University in February of 1930, winning his first letter for a five-point fall.

Delmas E. Aldridge and George Belshaw at Aldridge’s Home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 1964

In 1931, Aldridge was declared Big Ten champion in his weight class (one hundred and eighteen pounds) and was elected co-captain of the team by George Belshaw after the team elected Belshaw as captain in 1932.  Still appreciative of Belshaw’s kindness almost fifty years later, Aldridge wrote “Thanks again George,” by the newspaper clipping in the scrapbook that announced their captainship. (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Instead of letting his memories become forgotten overtime, Aldridge decided to hand over the scrapbook depicting his time as a member of the Indiana University wrestling team.  Aldridge simply asked that the scrapbook be put “in the appropriate location where they may be read by everyone for years to come.  Please do not mutilate but leave for others.  The last portion of this book shows the mutual respect, admiration, and love that existed between ‘His Boys’ and ‘Their Coach’ ‘Billy’ Thom.”  (Letter to ‘I’ Men’s Association, 20 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Delmas E. Aldridge, 1929

Delmas E. Aldridge passed away on March 22, 2003 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  However, the scrapbook has now found its way back to his alma mater, Indiana University, where it will be preserved for many years to come.  In regards to the scrapbook, Aldridge wrote, “It is not as bright & shiny as it was.  Now faded & moth eaten.  But after almost 50 years we are worn down a little also.” (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

The entire Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook has been digitized and is now accessible through Archives Online at Indiana University, or you can request an appointment to view the scrapbook in person by contacting the IU Archives.

Tales from Past and Present: IU’s Olympic Swimming History

The Indiana University Archives would like to congratulate IU swimmers Cody Miller (’14) (USA), Blake Pieroni (USA), Lilly King (USA), Kennedy Goss (Canada)Ali Khalafalla (Egypt), Anze Tavcar (Slovenia), and incoming-transfer Marwan El Kamash (Egypt) as well as divers Amy Cozad (’13) (USA), Michael Hixon (USA), Jessica Parratto (USA), and James Conner (Australia) for earning a spot on their respective country’s Olympic swimming and diving teams! In honor of the 2016 US Summer Olympic Games, the Archives would like to take our readers back in time and recount just a little of IU’s Olympic swimming history.

IU’s Most Successful Swimmer: Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz w Medals
Mark Spitz during the 1972 Olympic Games

One cannot possibly talk about IU’s Olympic swimming history without first mentioning Mark Spitz!

Mark Andrew Spitz (born on February 10, 1950 in Modesto, California) first gained fame at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, where he earned four medals: two gold, one silver, and one bronze. He swam for Indiana University from 1968 to 1972 where he trained with the legendary James “Doc” Counsilman. While at IU Spitz went on to win eight individual NCAA titles and contributed to four school NCAA Championships, completely rewriting IU, Big Ten, and NCAA record books in the process. By the spring of 1972, Spitz had set 23 world swimming records and 35 United States records.

In the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Spitz attained the world record for most gold medals received by any Olympic athlete by winning 7 gold medals, ousting the current record holder at the time (Italian fencer Nedo Nadi who received five Olympic medals during the 1920 games) and earning himself a place in Olympic history. To date, his achievement has only been surpassed by Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. However, Spitz also set new world records in all seven events in which he competed in 1972, an achievement which still stands. 

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Mark Spitz at IU

Those Who Didn’t Get to Compete: the 1980 Summer Olympics

Cynthia Potter
Cynthia Potter from 1976 Olympics

IU has had a long history of producing Olympic swimmers, but not all of them got to live out the dream to its fullest extent. In the summer of 1980 IU had three swimmers who were awarded the highest honor an athlete could imagine: a chance to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. Soon Amy McGrath, Cynthia Potter, and Brian Bungum would be on their way to Soviet Russia to compete in Moscow. It was the culmination of countless hours of training and years of dedication to their sport. Cynthia was the veteran of the group, having already won a bronze in the 1976 Olympics. For first-timers Amy McGrath and Brian Bungum, it was the realization of a dream. However, it was not meant to be.

On Christmas Day 1979, Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978. Upon their arrival in Kabul, the Soviet troops staged a coup, killing the Afghan President Hafizullah Amin. By December 27th they had installed a socialist, Babrak Karmal, as the new leader of the Afghan government.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spurred President Jimmy Carter to issue an ultimatum in January of 1980 stating that if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan the United States would boycott the Summer Moscow Olympics. His warnings went unheeded and the US, along with 65 other countries, refused to compete that summer. Sadly, we will never know what Cynthia, Amy, and Brian could have contributed to the athletic world that year.

McGrath_Bungum-Compilation
Left: Amy McGrath with her diving coach Hobie Billingsley Right: Brian Bungum

Present Day: the Hoosiers’ 11 and Rio 2016

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics began this past Friday and will end with the closing ceremony on Sunday August 21st. These 11 swimmers (now dubbed the Hoosiers’ 11) will be joined by IU’s head diving coach Drew Johansen and head swimming coach Ray Looze who will act as Team USA’s head diving coach and assistant women’s swimming coach respectively. We are so proud of Hoosier swimmers Lilly King, Blake Pieroni, and Cody Miller who have all already won Olympic medals in the 2016 games! King and Blake will bring home golds (King decided to break a record while she was at it) and Miller has earned a bronze! We are excited to watch the Hoosiers’ 11 as they continue this month and hope to see more podium appearances!

Go Big Red! 

IU’s Contemporary Dance Program

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The Terpsichoreans, n.d.

Indiana University’s Contemporary Dance Program dates back to 1927. Dancer Jane Fox, a graduate of Columbia University (NY), came to the IU campus as a faculty member with the intention of introducing “natural dance” to students. Though we know it to be its own department today, the Program first began as a part of the Women’s Physical Education department, under the supervision of the School of Education, which supported and funded it. Classes were held in the Student Building and in 1935, the first modern dance performing group, the Terpsichoreans, was organized. This group later evolved into the Modern Dance Workshop.

"Workshop" large
“Modern Dance Workshop…” Indiana Daily Student, 21 Sep 1960

Jane Fox was not only a staunch defender of dance education but also worked to validate the art of dance to the campus in general. In her quest to gain a wide acceptance of modern dance as a legitimate art form and academic discipline, Fox garnered campus, community, and national support. She immersed herself not only into IU’s culture, but also became the Chair and Secretary of the Dance Section of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER), the head of the National Committee on Standards in Teacher Education in Dance, and frequently contributed scholarly writings to the Journal of AAHPER and The Dance Observer. Fox continued to defend the validity of the art form during her time at Indiana University, and soon the medium was well respected on campus.

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“Sports healthy for women” Indiana Daily Student, 14 Nov 1967

In 1949, the Dance Major Program was formed, and with continued support from Fox, as well as increased student enrollment, modern dance was soon seen as a legitimate part of the campus community and a respected academic discipline.

The Dance Major Program experienced tremendous growth in both enrollment and reputation from this time until the late 1980s, and had a successive number of coordinators to direct the Program including Dr. Jacqueline Clifford, Fran Snygg, Bill Evans, Vera Orlock, Gwen Hamm, and Dr. John Shea.

Despite their best efforts to keep students enrolled during 1988-1991, the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation administration decided that a moratorium would be placed on the Dance program, effective May 1991. Students would be allowed to complete their Bachelor’s degrees in dance, but no new students would be accepted into the Dance Major Program.

Program Booklets, 1980s
Department of Dance, Program Booklets, 1980s

Despite this massive change, the professors and staff members committed to the role and mission of the program spent the next ten years (1991-2001) attempting to salvage the work they, Fox, and others had put forth during the last 60 years. 1991-2001 saw an increase in the number of students enrolled in the Elective Dance Program, which gave them hope for the future. Courses were expanded, students were surveyed, and the administration began to discuss the possibility of reinstating the Dance Major in 2004. Once all of the reinstatement procedures were determined and the curriculum revision had taken place, the fall of 2005 saw the first audition and admission of students to the Dance Major since 1991.

modern dancers to compete, zoom
“Modern Dancers to Compete…” Indiana Daily Student, 15 May 1951

Today, the Dance Major Program is supported by 16 faculty and staff members. The program is based in modern dance, but students

"Spring Performers" 30 Mar 1967
“Spring Performers” Indiana Daily Student, 30 Mar 1967

also study ballet and world dance forms, and can elect to study musical theatre, tap, and jazz. The Program boasts over 50 Dance Majors and 100 Dance Minors.

To learn more visit the IU Contemporary Dance Program’s website, or visit the IU Archives to view the Jane Fox papers or the Dance Program records.

The Purdue Train Wreck of 1903: A Football Rivalry Touched by Tragedy

Here at the archives blog, we strive to showcase some of the fun and insightful parts of our history that have been forgotten or remain obscure. For this post, our focus of interest will be on a much grimmer, not-so-fun topic.

Um, are you still there? OK, good…

Our sad story involves football, the historic rivalry between I.U. and our friends at Purdue and…trains.

It was Saturday, October 31, 1903. Already by this point in time not only was football an essential part of the fabric of university life, but the competition between I.U and Purdue for gridiron glory had already heated up into a fever pitch. In fact, the rivalry was so hot and intense, that both universities had agreed that matches between the two teams should be held on neutral ground, so as to limit potential hooliganism on the part of the spectators. Both had agreed on the most suitable ground for avoiding this nastiness–Indianapolis.

Arrival of the “Purdue Special,” November 20, 1909.

To get to the location, the teams, the entire student body (including Purdue’s president), and other followers from both universities crowded onto separate special service trains to take them en masse to into the city from Bloomington and Lafayette. In Purdue’s case, the train was cobbled together from available coaches, from modern (for the time) steel cars to older wooden coaches. The wooden coaches were attached near the front of the train, and the Purdue team rode took their place of honor in these cars at the front of the train procession.

As the train triumphantly chugged their way into the city limits of Indianapolis, the Purdue entourage had no way of knowing that their train was locked into a collision course with an opposing train on the same tracks, courtesy of a signaling error on the part of the railroad switching crew. The engineer of the Purdue special continued to rocket the train along at a speedy clip, unaware of danger up ahead. By the time he spotted the opposing locomotive bearing down on his machine, there was no chance of his being able to halt his barreling procession in time. Resigned to fate, he threw on the air brakes and leapt off of his engine.

Print  from copy negatives apparently made by The Indianapolis Times. The Purdue University Archives holds many more images of the wreck site: http://tinyurl.com/mhzr8qu

The collision forces were such that the wooden cars attached at the front of the line splintered like kindling, and the cars immediately adjacent to these were sent violently off the raised tracks to the ground below. In contrast to this carnage, the cars further back were spared the crushing and derailment at the front of the procession, barely registering a jolt. The rearmost passengers wasted little time in coming to the assistance of the victims up ahead. According to Joseph Bradfield, then a Purdue student riding in the procession, “We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital [….] There was no ambulance, no cars…” By the time the scene was brought under control and the victims accounted for, eighteen riders had died as a result of the disaster, including most of Purdue’s football squad.

The shock of what had occurred thoroughly jolted not only Purdue, but I.U. as well. The intense rivalry was pushed entirely aside as I.U. flooded its fellow university with expressions of condolence and solidarity in the face of tragic and unprecedented loss of life. Faculty members paid tribute to the fallen Purdue footballers in an open letter as “honorable and friendly rivals, not our enemies,” and likened their shock at Purdue’s loss as “…to brothers who have lost the comrades of their day’s work.” In a similar spirit, some students suggested that the revenue from the cancelled game be directed to both university athletic associations as an appropriate way to deal with the financial matters stemming from the accident. In short, the tragedy served to cool the burning football rivalry between the two universities, so that future games would be normally played on either the I.U. or Purdue campus rather than alternate locations.

An unused ticket from that tragically doomed game.

So ends our sad but fascinating slice of university history, courtesy of the extensive collection at the I.U. Archives. If you’d like more details on this episode or others, please contact the staff at the Archives.