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Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:41 PM ET
R-Dub Presents ... Strange But True Sports Rituals

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

(Cue Alfred Hitchcock theme) Good evening. Talking about ... (engage vocal echoing device) ... Weird Sports Rituals ... (disengage) is like talking about ... boring Hollywood Movies. Why they're everywhere!

Jose Lima
Houston's Jose Lima sparked a melee when he hit the Mets' Jay Payton.
The question is, can you find a Normal Sports Ritual? Say, "normal ritual" is an oxymoron, isn't it?

Oxymoron. Hmm. That brings to mind those two most recent paragons of ... Weird Sports Rituals ... Mr. Jose (It's) Lima (Time), and Mr. Turk (I Shot the Sheriff & Everything Else That Moved) Wendell, two pitchers in the National League. Recently, as you might know, Lima ritually hit New York Mets outfielder Jay Payton in the forearm with a fastball capable of breaking bones, which might've curtailed Mr. Payton's career. Nothing funny about that, not to Mr. Payton, anyway. So he engaged in Act 2 of the most common Weird Sports Ritual. He charged the mound and wound up in a choke-out with not Mr. Lima but Brad Ausmus, a catcher who would just as soon have been behind home plate cursing the umpire.

This brings us to ... Weird Sports Ritual No. 2. Mr. Turk Wendell, a piece of work who wears bear claws, or some kind of claws, claws from animals Mr. Wendell has killed -- well, he didn't actually kill them, the weapon he was carrying killed them, without the weapon it's doubtful Mr. Wendell would've gone to face animals with claws like the ones he wears around his neck, not with just a glove, a ball, his spikes and the murderous Look he gives umps he thinks are squeezing him and hitters like Vlad (the Impaler) Guerrero.

Mr. Wendell has hit Mr. Guerrero of the Montreal Expos with a baseball before, supposedly in retribution for people hitting home runs, and he has threatened to do it again, for the rituals of the game allow for it without Mr. Wendell ever being charged with criminal assault. The reason this ritual is different from Mr. Lima's -- & Mr. Clemens' vis-a-vis Mr. Piazza -- is that Mr. Wendell might actually be covering for his own lack of ability, in this case to get Guerrero out.

This is also called The Punishment Factor, or, If You Can't Win The Game, Start The Fight. In football, when DBs can't cover a particular wide receiver, it goes without saying -- try to beat him up, see how he responds. Why do you think Allen Iverson ends up smacked around so much? And if the offensive star says, "Hey! Quit that!", then he is theirs, for he has been distracted from his mission.

Judging from his swing, we doubt if Mr. Geurrero will forget his mission due to any so-called threatening actions from Mr. Wendell, so Mr. Wendell only threatens to deny us, the paying public, the right to see the singular Mr. Geurrero perform, and they already ain't drawing flies in Montreal.

Turk Wendell
Quirky Mets reliever Turk Wendell engaged in some ritualistic behavior with the Expos' Vladimir Guerrero.
Weird Sports Ritual No. 3 -- Talking to baseballs, and meaning it:
Popularized by Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, a Detroit Tigers pitcher who captivated America for 15 minutes back in the '70s. He talked to the ball between pitches, as did the "Mad Hungarian" Al Hrabosky, a hard-throwing reliever with the Cardinals and other teams. Hrabosky would curse the ball, fire it into his glove and then throw it past some hitters. Hrabosky once cursed at the ball and then tried to throw it by Henry Aaron: The Hammer hit it out on a line so hard that it made the shortstop's knees bend -- and if the bleachers hadn't been there, it would probably still be rolling. When he got back to the dugout, Bad Henry deadpanned to his teammates:

"Let him go find that one, and talk to it."

Weird Sports Ritual No. 4 -- Vomiting before games:
Might not be particularly weird, but it does happen, and with astounding regularity. Several of the more bulimic young gymnasts do it before every meet. Even the vaunted Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics gave it up before every game.

Weird Sports Ritual No. 5 -- Drinking blood:
Popularized by boxers, from anonymous tomato cans to contenders to champion-ability heavyweights from Sullivan to Langford to Johnson to Joe Louis. Must be beef blood, by the way. Chicken blood, that's a whole other thing.

Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders takes the "taping" ritual to extremes.
Weird Sports Ritual No. 6 -- Taping where tape might not be particularly needed:
Football specialty, for the most part, epitomized by players from pioneer Lenny Moore to Deion Sanders to Jerry Rice. Before artificial turf, all cool skill players "spatted" their football cleats. They taped their ankles by covering their cleats, ankle and foot with white adhesive tape, except for the exposed heel and toe, the better to look like the drum major in the band, or Gregory Hines in "The Cotton Club," and who knows why, because the drum major and Gregory were wishing they could score touchdowns.

Coach John Thompson of Georgetown taped his ankles before every game he ever coached! He also listened to country music before every game he ever coached, but that's yet another ... Weird Sports Ritual.

Weird Sports Ritual No. 7 -- Getting up for the game:
This is weird? Depends on how they go about it. Darrell Armstrong of the Orlando Magic has six cups of joe, laced with a pound or so of sugar. Intense, not weird. Weird are those on the ice, the field, the diamond, indoor and outdoor courts, who are "waitin' for the bennies to bust" -- waiting for pills to dissolve into the bloodstream, giving them pep. Not to mention Olympic athletes -- including some all-time favorites -- horsing up on human growth hormone.

Weird Sports Ritual No. 8 -- Pre-fight introductions:
Boxing is the only sport where past champions and other minor dignitaries are introduced prior to two men laying their lives on the line. Seems like the two men's families would be introduced, since they are the ones who will be collecting on the life insurance -- if they can dig it out of the issuing company, which is doubtful. But at least they could get introduced.

The Weirdest of these is ring announcer Michael Buffer's Human Love Call, for which he is paid handsomely to go around to different events, not just fights, but football games, Bar Mitzvahs, Baptist conventions, beauty pageants, and say these five words: "Llllllllet's Get Ready to Rumb-aaaaaaaallllllll!"

Darrell Armstrong
The Magic's Darrell Armstrong gets a lift from several cups of coffee with loads of sugar.
Weird Sports Ritual No. 9 -- Fights:
In football, these are Training Camp Fights; coaches aren't happy with their slave-driving until a couple of lineman from the Mesozoic Age or Michael Westbrook decide they can't take the reps, the screaming, the pounding, the heat, the horror any more and begin whaling on each other, because to start in on the defenseless coaches is a sure ticket to oblivion. Some of these fights can be entertaining, until one genius decides to get serious and take off his helmet.

That usually ends the fight pretty quick.

In hockey, it's called Dropping the Gloves. Never mind that One Decent Heavyweight could go through the NHL with little problem, fighting is seen as part of the skill base of a hockey player. They prepare for hostilities by skating past the goalie in a line before games and striking the poor man's pads with their sticks. They will also strike you about the head and shoulders with their sticks, if you aren't careful, especially if they lose too many fights.

In track & field, it's called Giving Each Other Dirty Looks. Sprinter John Drummond complained after Carl Lewis was added to the United States 4x100 relay a few years ago, before the Atlanta Olympics. "But at the Trials, he finished butt-naked last!" said Drummond intensely. To which Carl tossed his head and said, "Hmph." Carl won the (cat) fight, but Canada won the Game, the 4x100 gold medal that year.

Weird Sports Ritual No. 10 -- Sumo wrestling

Weird Sports Ritual No. 11 -- (Cue V. Price laughter, Thriller video) ... ESPN.com's Page 2

Good evening. (phone rings) Hello? Dog? Naw, Dog ain't over here. No problem. (click).

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."