Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking outside the Batter's Box

By Eric Bronson | Go to book overview
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21b Does Superstition
Help Performance?


A baseball player is superstitious when he irrationally believes that a certain phenomenon influences his performance, or perhaps his team's performance. In typical cases, the relevant phenomenon is a pattern of behavior on the part of the player himself: wearing a peculiar item of clothing, following a certain route to the ballpark, eating chicken before every game (as Wade Boggs did), or even wearing a particular uniform number (Rickey Henderson once paid a teammate $25,000 for the right to have number 24; for Larry Walker, the number is 33). Of course, one can eat chicken before the game purely for dietary reasons, in which case the behavior is not superstitious—it does not result from superstitious beliefs.

A superstitious belief is unjustified because it is not supported by adequate evidence. Moreover, a superstitious belief probably entails that there is some magical or unexplainable connection between the phenomenon and one's performance, or at least that the phenomenon affects one's luck (rather than one's skill or physical and psychological capacities). In any event, we recognize clear cases of superstition when we see them. We also talk of players' routines and rituals (I will ignore any differences there might be between them). A routine or ritual is superstitious only if it results from superstitious beliefs. Examples of non-superstitious routines include stretching and batting practice.


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Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking outside the Batter's Box
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