When you stop believing you can jinx your favorite baseball team

Jim Leyland is certainly not the type of guy to believe in jinxes.

Jim Leyland is certainly not the type of guy to believe in jinxes.

I’m sorry.

I used to be a diehard Tiger fan, and, as such, of course I believed in jinxes. Now that I have passed through the fire of disillusionment and cynicism and emerged on the other side as a logical, dispassionate observer and analyst of major league baseball as practiced in 2013, I have put away the things of a child.

So why do I feel I must apologize?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column in which I foolishly opined that the Tigers were on track to a 100-win season and another berth in the World Series, given that the starting pitching and powerful lineup were both firing on all cylinders.

Some readers may also recall my column, written just before the season began, in which I praised Justin Verlander as a mature, consummate mound artist who unfailingly spins masterpieces that we are privileged to witness.

So what has happened of late must be my fault.

Other explanations for the sudden collapse of JV and the shocking derailment of the Tigers’ march to the pennant are almost as preposterous — all manner of theories involving Kate Upton, for example, or the belated effects of a Sports Illustrated cover curse, or some mysterious disease affecting Jim Leyland’s mustache.

I know the belief in jinxes is really a psychological phenomenon of selective memory. And maybe, like much else I think about baseball, it is now passé. It might be a remnant of nights spent listening to Tiger games on a transistor radio under my pillow, just loud enough to barely hear Ernie’s broadcast without tipping off the nearby adult supervision. You see, the more a baseball game is left to the imagination, the more a young fan feels a magical connection, and the more he fantasizes that if, say, he can faithfully imitate Stormin’ Norman’s batting stance, certainly he can send Number 25 powerful positive thoughts via reverse radio waves.

And, as a corollary, that if the fan dares to speak his hopes, then the magic is broken.

Well, those days, to borrow from Ernie, are “long gone.” Nowadays the likes of Mario and Rod — and most other TV and radio announcers — have no compunction about jinxing anyone. They openly root for the hit or the strikeout needed by the home team at the moment. They see their role more as cheerleaders, hawking the team’s brand.

Harwell understood his role as the stage-setter for the magic perhaps better than any announcer ever. He understood the history and culture of baseball, including its superstitions, and he knew he was supposed to leave all the fantasizing to you, the listener.

I readily admit too, that I remember selectively. I recall the many times I started driving down the Lodge to get to Tiger Stadium because a no-hitter was in progress and turned back home before I reached the Corner because once again I’d gotten my hopes up too soon.

There were also the times, more than once, when I saw an opposing batter ruin the no-hitter just as I walked up a ramp to the seats. (Yes, back in the day you could walk in the gates for free after the fifth inning).

To abandon the belief that you are capable of jinxing your team is to jettison the last shred of pretense that is the illogical underpinning of the delusion known as fandom. Maybe I’m not quite ready to do that just yet.

If your Tigerish heart didn’t ache watching Verlander implode in Texas, maybe it’s because you’ve already had a heart transplant. If you didn’t think maybe it was at least partially your fault somehow, you probably didn’t grow up with Ernie’s voice conjuring up that magic. And that makes me feel sorry for you.

So I apologize, JV, for saying something stupid like I love you. Next time I’ll be more cautious and try to pretend, like Rod Allen, that I’m supremely qualified to give you advice on how to pitch or that I have some idea what’s ailing you.

But really I don’t. I just hope you get better soon.

2 replies on “When you stop believing you can jinx your favorite baseball team

  • George

    There are no jinxes. There is bad managing, players that need practice on fielding. There are minor league players and pitchers on the roster. These are not a jinx.

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