Before he retired from broadcasting in 1996, Phil Rizzuto made it a point never to switch topics during a Yankees rally. He might be recounting a recent trip to Utica, a story with no remote connection to the game. As long as the Yankees kept hitting, Phil would keep talking about Utica—a stream-of-consciousness filibuster that would eventually include a few lucky restaurants and car dealerships. Later, if the Yankees needed a run, he'd resurrect the Utica trip, just to see if any magic remained in the tank.
"Gotta get back to Utica, White!" he'd yell to his partner Bill White. "Amazing town! Had a great meal at—Base hit by Murcer!"
Phil's tangents never bothered me. I knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to win us a ball game. And he was not alone.
I don't watch Yankees games. I work them. I pour myself into each pitch, certain that my physical and mental actions have an impact—that somehow, I matter.
I sit one way when the Yankees are at bat, another way when they're in the field. If three Yankees in a row get hits, I note where I am and what I am doing. It's instinctive. It's beyond my control. It's juju, that anecdotal science rooted in the theory that every living being has a cosmic purpose, and yours just might involve a couch and a channel changer. Some region of my brain records stance and whereabouts, and then scours the universe for a psychic link to the game. If I'm in the kitchen, as long as the Yankees hits keep coming, I'll stay planted. If I'm on the phone, I'll keep talking—my own private Utica. I never tamper with Yankees success.
Of course, it takes at least three hits to sell me on a juju position. The architects of baseball recognized the power of threes. Three strikes, you're out. Three outs per inning. Three bases. Nine fielders—three times three. Twenty-seven outs—three times three times three. Three is the first odd prime number. Bad luck happens in threes. And when the Yankees get three straight hits, it's not happenstance, it's not coincidence, it's not Toronto pitching. It's juju, and if you want to win the game, damn it, it's no time to switch chairs.
I am not a kook. I don't do hooey. I don't believe in UFOs, Bigfoot or Nessie. I don't even believe that for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. Seriously, do the math. I'm normal. Get it? When I walk down the street, people say, "There goes a regular guy. Just don't get him started on the Yankees."
Because when the Yankees lose, I blame myself. I realize there is no way my physical and mental gyrations on a couch in upstate New York can affect a ball game 1,000 miles away. It cannot happen. It does not happen. It will never happen.
But what if, on a certain day, a certain person happens to move a certain way, which sends a certain wave of unknown energy particles—let's call them rizzutons—through a certain unexplained wormhole, causing a certain 90-mph fastball to hang like a pi√±ata in the center of a certain batter's wheelhouse? I'm not saying it happens. I'm just saying that until a few years ago, we called Pluto a planet. We still don't know what electricity is—I don't, anyway—or why extension cords always knot up when left alone. Don't call it happenstance. Or coincidence. It's direct action.
In my life as a Yankees fan, I have devised offensive and defensive schemes that should win at least 95 games per season. When we're at bat, I confront the TV head-on, eyeballing the screen, my face a heart-attack red and clenched in a zombie grimace. I bend the knees slightly (good for the back, by the way) and assume the cobra-coiled stance of a mixed-martial arts fighter. I don't actually kickbox my TV. That would not only be cowardly but also counterproductive. I would lose my direct link to the YES Network, the official Yankees government news agency, and my primary wormhole for rizzuton transmissions.
I work between pitches. I pace the room, always returning to my juju spot one micromoment before the pitcher begins his windup. If I'm a nanosecond late, we have squandered the pitch. On defense, I switch gears, usually pitching directly to the screen. Sometimes, I'll lie bonelessly on the couch, eyes nearly closed, to lull the enemy bats to sleep. This can be draining, especially late at night. At times, I've woken to learn our bullpen crapped away my hard-earned lead.
Baseball affords at least 25 seconds between pitches—enough time for the thinking fan to ponder not just this game but also the disappointment we are to this world, and to ask, for once in our miserable, straight-to-home-video lives: How can we help our team? The answer is juju. What if I told you the Yankees' 27 world titles resulted not from great players, wise managers or even the perennial avalanche of owner money—but from collective juju, the rizzuton emissions of 20 million fans? Obviously, I'd be kidding, right? Seriously, it would be insane to believe such nonsense, right? We all know better, right? Because that's what Cubs fans say.
Hart Seely is a reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard. His book The Juju Rules: Or, How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch is being released on April 17 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Three years after the restaurant chain dropped him as a sponsor, John Daly returned to Hooters last week to serve as Head Rules Official for a pre-Masters chicken-wing-eating contest in Augusta.
ILLUSTRATION BY DARROW
JULIAN SMITH/EPA (DALY)