Superstitions are, by definition, bunk. Knocking on wood, crossing fingers, pinching a black cat over your shoulder after spilling salt on a broken mirror: any rational person with a sound understanding of causality will disregard these practices. Baseball traditions, on the other hand, are universally sacrosanct and supported by hard science.
There is no room for mumbo-jumbo voodoo magic in baseball, which is driven by statistics—what old-school managers refer to as their “gut instincts.” If an aspect of the game cannot be tracked in tiny rows of numbers on the back of a bubblegum card, it is removed from the rulebook and offered to another, more interpretive sport, such as figure skating or chess.
Nowadays, teams are figuring out how to use math to explain practically any influence on the game. Statheads constantly develop new statistics with acronyms like TOOTBLAN, which means (seriously) Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop. Somewhere, in the basement of a major-league stadium, paid nerds are quantifying and analyzing the effects of a slugger’s ritualistic in-game adjustments of his protective cup.
Thank goodness, too! Because suddenly, the Kansas City Royals baseball team is a good strong week away from making the playoffs despite being, in many ways, not very good. And no one yet understands how this is happening.
Full disclosure: I am, for the very same reason I enjoy root canals and standardized tests, a fan of the Royals. This is true even though, for all the team’s success since President Reagan tore down the Great Wall of China, the Royals might as well have fielded nine poorly trained manatees.
The Royals are the only so-called “major” “professional” “sports” “team” in North America or Canada not to make the postseason for the past twenty nine years. Statisticians have yet to formulate the root of this sudden success, which means, theoretically, my current behaviors may be having a statistically significant positive correlation on the outcome of games.
Or, in regular peanuts-and-Cracker-Jack language: WAWBIMA. We Are Winning Because I’m Mistakenly Awesome!
I’m ecstatic that my cheering might finally be having an impact. For my whole life, I’ve enacted proven baseball rooting strategies, like not cutting my hair all season and re-wearing dirty undergarments after a win, but to no avail. This year, I might be doing something different, and whatever it is, it is working.
But which one thing is statistically most significant? And is it really me, or is WAWBIMA attributable to one of the tens, if not dozens, of other Royals fans? In the face of such a daunting process of elimination, I wonder why any of this even matters. Do I simply yearn to be part of something bigger than myself? Is baseball a symbol of hope and community in a time of global strife?
The answer to these questions is: I don’t know. But it must be SOMETHING important-sounding for grown jocks to wear women’s perfume.
Yes, really. The Royals’ shortstop and All-Star catcher both wear Victoria’s Secret perfume when they play. Do they love their jobs so much that, compared to their equally capable peers, they would play for 79 cents to the dollar? No—they do so for Success. The shortstop got the catcher started one day, and as the catcher describes his field experiment, “That game, I hit a ball and everything.”
Laugh all you want, but big-league hitters don’t just hit a ball whenever they want to! They all need a little “something extra,” and human growth hormones are now verboten. I fully support my team using perfume—not to mention shaving their legs and applying nail polish—at least until the new baseball commissioner bans these performance enhancers.
But how does this brilliant tactic work? Five minutes of research on Twitter clarified the correlation between femininity and success. Apparently, our human brains devise unconscious stereotypes about all sorts of things, such as women and leadership. In short, we don’t expect women to be leaders. So when those stereotypes collide, according to NPR’s science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, “women leaders appear ruthless and dislikeable for no better reason than that they happen to be women leaders.”
Bingo! Who wins championships? Leaders. Male athletes are used to competing against what type of other athletes? Not females! So the Royals are winning on the basis of this scientific theory which I just reviewed among my own peers: By smelling like lingerie-clad female supermodels, they are confounding their opponents’ stereotypes in order to appear ruthless in order to win games!
The Royals’ success is all up to science now. Perfume plus WAWBIMA will lead to a certain World Series victory until proven otherwise. As for my own contribution, all I need to do differently the rest of this season is sit back and enjoy a real pennant chase, for better or for worse, or until my leg stubble gets too itchy.
This piece of Fool’s Gold ran originally on the New Mexico Mercury. And no, I am not at all kidding about the perfume thing.
(Featured image, “Mya Romero snags the line drive,” copyright SD Dirk on Flickr via a Creative Commons Attribution License.)