Ghostvillage.com author interview
The sport of baseball has many legends attached it — great players who broke all kinds of records, superstitions, and ghosts who still haunt the ballparks, nearby hotels, and training grounds surrounding America’s pastime. In Field of Screams: Haunted Tales from the Baseball Diamond, the Locker Room, and Beyond , Dan Gordon and Mickey Bradley bring us a second dose of supernatural sports. Ghostvillage.com caught up with Dan Gordon to discuss the new book.
In 2007 you and your co-author Mickey Bradley published Haunted Baseball. Now you’re back with your second book on the subject, Field of Screams. Did you find a lot of new stories and witnesses came forward after the first book was published?
Dan Gordon: Mickey and I thought we might have a second volume before we even finished Haunted Baseball. We had interviewed over 700 major leaguers for the first book over the course of two seasons and the stories kept coming. Before long we had over 350 pages for a manuscript that was ticketed to be 250 pages. Then after the release of Haunted Baseball, Red Sox fan Gino Castignoli buried a David Ortiz jersey in freshly poured cement in the new Yankee Stadium and recited a brief incantation: “The Yankees are done for the next thirty years.” We heard more stories from workers at Anaheim Stadium that fleshed out a chapter on rumors of ghosts in the clubhouse and corridors of the ballpark. At Tiger Stadium, before it was torn down, we spoke with workers who saw apparitions, heard noises, and reported other odd happenings including taps on the shoulder and scratches forming on arms. (We uncovered similar stories from Comerica.) Not to mention the endless stream of stories we heard talking with more players over the course of two more seasons, shedding light on history, tradition and lore of such venues as Pirate City, the longtime Spring Training campus for the Pittsburgh Pirates; hotels in Milwaukee and Scranton, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; and Koshien Stadium in Japan. Not to mention updates on stories from our first book, such as ballplayer accounts of the supernatural from Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park.
Have any new team or player curses been born since your last book?
It’s too early to say. Mickey and I often note how the power of suggestion in baseball can spark a curse. An embittered Cubs fan with a billy goat can have as much perceived influence on the performance of a team as the Sultan of Swat. All it takes is media focus or rumor among players and a curse is born. Take the Gino Castignoli incident, which at first glance seemed to be tongue in cheek. But to the Yankees front office, fans, and even players, it was no laughing matter. The team sent in a crew, who spent five hours and an estimated $50,000 jackhammering the jersey out of five feet of cement to retrieve the bad-luck charm and stop the hex from taking hold. Then a Yankees fan from Vermont returned the favor, throwing a balloon filled with water and Yankee Stadium grass seed onto the infield at Fenway. Both stories made national headlines and of course we interviewed both guys for Field of Screams, but in speaking with other construction workers at the new Yankee Stadium we found out that many others had also buried items at new Yankee Stadium. Mike Reed, a mason and Sox fan from Jersey, buried Red Sox mugs, miniature Sox helmets. And the worse insult of all: four commemorative 2004 World Series coins. He placed one in each of the four major footings of the stadium and said aloud, “This one is going to be in your new stadium for sixty — eighty years.” The length of the curse was based on his estimate of how long the new stadium would be there. (By contrast, Castignoli limited his hex to thirty years, “because after thirty years I’ll be dead and I really don’t care if they win or lose.”) Then of course some Mets fan buried items and a Yankee fan’s cremated ashes were buried in Section 205, on the main level, just beyond right field. In our book, we interview players, fans and scholars to speculate on how good karma and bad karma will play out in coming years with all those buried items.
As for other curses over the last couple of years, it’s hard to say. Oftentimes curse theories arise years later. Will it some day be said that the Washington Nationals are cursed because they brought up rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg too early? Actually there is talk of a curse. In an Op-Ed piece that ran the other day in the Washington Post, the authors noted noted that Nationals Park was built near the site where Abe Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was buried and four of his conspirators were hung. Perhaps the Detroit Tigers are cursed because a first base umpire blew a call on the potential final out costing Armando Gallaraga a perfect game in 2010? Or maybe someday fans will talk about Boston’s Curse of Manny Being Manny. Or the same curse applying to the Dodgers or White Sox. It would be fun to revisit this question in twenty years.
In the past (and in your book) we talked about the notion that we are a celebrity-worshiping culture and tend to attach the most famous name who ever lived/worked/visited a location to any ghostly phenomena. Have you encountered any stories you think just don’t line up with the name attached to them?
I’m fascinated by how ID-ing ghosts is often leap of faith. The fact that a well-known ballplayer once passed through the site leads to the conclusion that his spirit now haunts the place. In the storyteller’s mind it’s absolutely Babe Ruth or Roberto Clemente or Mickey Mantle. As you state in your “Most-Famous-Phenomenon” theory, folks are identifying the most famous person to have passed through the site as a ghost rather than others who had passed through or died unexpectedly.
Mickey and I approached our subjects objectively as folklorists. Our mantra was to record these stories as they are, because they are part of the narrative of the game. And they are deeply personal accounts that are often born out of intuition. We treated our storytellers with the utmost respect, rather than challenging their perspective and beliefs. Take, for instance, the stories in our book of Ty Cobb. The “Georgia Peach” shines in our chapter on Detroit’s former Tiger Stadium and current Comerica Park. We heard reports that his ghost was seen rounding the bases at the former Tiger Stadium and workers at Comerica described run-ins with Cobb in the Tigers new home. A couple of the stories though are a bit more abstract. One worker, in the ballpark lobby, told us the elevator doors on his floor mysteriously open and close, as if carrying an invisible passenger. He also describes witnessing the lid of a garbage can in that same lobby rising from its base and landing a couple feet away. He has no doubt it was Ty Cobb. It seemed perfectly natural given the stories he heard and the aura of the former Tiger, who had one of the most stellar careers in baseball history. For us, that was the underlying story we were after.
On the other hand, there was the hoax of the late Hall of Fame southpaw Eddie Plank’s ghost throwing fastballs years later on the first floor of his former home in Gettysburg. In a chapter in Field of Screams, we interview the current owner of the home, a Gettysburg College professor who wrote a satirical article spoofing the idea of Plank’s ghost in his home that ran in a literary journal. A condensed version appeared in the college magazine that was misconstrued as suggesting that the ghost story was true. The latter article attracted ESPN and other media outlets. (Though the ESPN piece maintained its own tongue-in-cheek quality throughout, with the segment reporter making numerous ghost jokes along the way.) The story is part of a larger chapter in Field of Screams on haunted baseball pranks, carried out of course mostly by players.
Who is the most famous spectral baseball player out of all of the haunted ballparks?
Hands down, Babe Ruth. When Mickey and I first started planning Haunted Baseball and wondering what stories might be out there, we thought that a Babe Ruth ghost story would be the holy grail. But it turned out that his stories are everywhere. His presence has been reported in former hotels, brothels, golf courses, spring training grounds, and so on. And several folks describe spiritual encounters with Ruth, including his granddaughter. But his best known afterlife hangouts are his former stomping grounds — Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. We probably spoke with well over one hundred ballplayers who talk about Ruth’s ghost in those venues.
What’s the most bizarre ritual by players (living) that you’ve encountered when it comes to dealing with the ghosts?
At Chenquing Stadium in Gaoxing Taiwan, players burned a rule book so that the ghosts would learn the rules of the game.
The ritual was recommended by a Daoist psychic who visited the team after a team from the Taiwan Major League moved in and lost its first several games. The ballpark was thought to have been built over an unmanaged graveyard. The psychic, who had sensed there were ghosts during a visit to the ballpark, advised head coach Xu Shengin that the ballpark ghosts did not understand. He suggested buring a baseball rule book so the ghosts would learn.
Although the ritual may be considered bizarre in Western culture, it is very common in Taiwan to burn something or incense for spirits. And that was something Mickey and I always kept in mind when doing our research. We have a story in our book about a team in South Korea doing a good luck ritual with a pig corpse. And we recorded plenty of interesting rituals in Japan.
My wife is Japanese and she is telling me all the time about beliefs and traditions that she grew up with and consider normal. She has covered mirrors in our apartment with sheets because of her culture’s belief that mirrors attract ghosts. After our daughter was born, we visited Suitengo Shrine, a famous shrine in Chuo Ward in Tokyo for giving birth to a healthy baby and protecting a mother’s health. Just this week we visited my father in law, who was in the hospital. I asked her what Japanese etiquette to follow and she said that visitors never send plants, because roots in the soil portend that a hospital stay will be extended. To me, that’s odd, but to her it’s part of the Buddhist and Shinto culture she grew up in. The same with Japanese players, who sprinkle salt on the dugout steps to ward off spirits, leave o-fuda (a large talisman) on team dormitory walls to repel ghosts, and fear buildings built by a pond’s edge because water is thought to attract ghosts. Discovering all these cultural differences — in major league baseball, which is kind of a melting pot — is one of the most rewarding aspects of doing the research for the book.
Did you personally encounter anything unexplained in researching Field of Screams?
No, but we did spend a lot of late nights in the underbelly of ballparks across the country and in some instances it was eerie. Mickey visited Tiger Stadium with John McCormick of Motor City Ghost Hunters. John carried with him an 8.1 megapixel digital camera, an EMF detector, an air particle tester, and an infrared thermometer. We write about a few of the unusual things he recorded. We also spent nights at the “most haunted room” in many of the hotels that we wrote about in Field of Screams, but didn’t have any a la John Cusack experiences. But in these older hotels and ballparks, you always feel history surrounds you.
I also had that feeling when I visited some of the allegedly haunted baseball sites in Japan, including the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima. And at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which allegedly holds ghosts and is covered in our book, the old gloves and game-worn uniforms make it easy to believe that their late owners can’t be far away. One of our interviewees, Bruce Markusen, a noted baseball author who runs Cooperstown Candlelight Ghost Tours, told us that it was this very awareness that contributes to the many ghost sightings in town. “Baseball is more aware of its history than any other sport,” he told us. “Baseball honors its dead more so than any other sport. So it’s only appropriate that Cooperstown has an attachment to the ghost world.”
Since you wrote your last book Yankee Stadium in New York closed and a brand-new stadium opened right next door. Do you think the ghosts crossed over? (To the new stadium, not to the “other side.”)
According to several players and coaches, the ghosts made ’09 living hell for visiting teams. Babe Ruth’s granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti, who is profiled in a chapter in our book on Babe Ruth ghost sightings, told us that on a visit to her granddad’s gravesite, she found by the gravestone a Ziploc bag with a key and note inside. The note written in kid’s scrawl read, “Babe, here’s a key to the new Yankee Stadium so you can get in.” And of course there was a lot of ceremony and pageantry when the new stadium opened. Perhaps the most stirring was when Derek Jeter laid at home plate a bat Babe Ruth used when the old stadium opened in 1923. As long as the team continues to honor their tradition and as long as they keep winning, that perception will still be there.
Do baseball players and fans need these ghosts/spirits to hang around?
It’s not so much need, but intrinsic. Ghosts are part of the narrative of baseball. Baseball has a long and colorful history, and a tradition of honoring its history and comparing past players to present. So Ty Cobb still runs the former base paths at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. And Roberto Clemente still watches over younger players at Pirate City as he did in real life (as described in our book). Whether these stories are literal or figurative, it’s a natural conclusion within the game.
I know you’re a Red Sox fan… I’d like to draw your attention to the last question I asked you back in September of 2007 after your first book came out… and I quote, “Who do you think will win the World Series this year?” You said, “That’s up to the ghosts. I never consider myself a good prognosticator. Cards and Tigers last year — who would have guessed? I like Boston’s chances if the bats come around and stay around…” The Red Sox, of course, went on to win the World Series that year. Here we are again… who will win the 2010 world series?
I’m going to be bold here: Not the Red Sox.
Seriously though, if I really had the power to predict, I never would have jumped on the Red Sox band wagon as a child. Because “wait ’til next year” would have actually meant “wait ’til you see how we mess with your head next year.”
Other than Babe Ruth’s called shot, the ball doesn’t usually go where it’s told. And that’s why fans, players and teams carry out some of the superstitions and rituals profiled in our book. The Sox in ’07 had a plastic parrot in their bullpen for good luck, part of a larger pirate theme the notoriously superstitious Sox relievers embraced that year. We have a story in our book about how the mascot was stolen late at night following Boston’s Game 7 victory over Cleveland in the ALCS. Sox reliever Mike Timlin went on a local sports show and made a plea to Red Sox Nation to return the parrot, which he said was “an integral part of what’s going on here [with the bullpen].” The parrot was restored to its perch by two Boston University college students and the Sox went on to win the Fall Classic.
So in answer to your question, maybe the winning team this year will be the squad with the lucky charm.
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