Ghostvillage.com author interview
Anyone who follows the sport of baseball knows that the players believe in luck. A batter in a slump may not connect with a ball for weeks in a game situation if he believes his luck went bad. Managers, owners, even fans have their rituals to help avoid supernatural problems on the field; and then there are the ballparks themselves… these places are scared shrines to all those greats who went before. By many accounts, some of those greats may still be lurking.
In Haunted Baseball: Ghosts, Curses, Legends, and Eerie Events, authors Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon explore the legends, curses, and spirits of America’s pastime. Through interviewing the players (both past and present), grounds crew, coaches, and fans, Bradley and Gordon weave a very haunted tale.
Ghostvillage.com caught up with Dan Gordon to ask him about his new book.
What drew you to the subject of baseball ghosts?
Dan Gordon: I’ve been drawn to baseball probably from the moment I first set eyes on a ballgame. I remember how mesmerized I was as a small child watching the news highlights of Henry Aaron’s 715th. Two years later, in the magical Boston summer of ’75, my dad took me to my first Red Sox game at Fenway. He’d grown up a Braves fan, and he instilled in me an appreciation for the finer moments of the game, pointing out Petrocelli’s footwork in between pitches at third base and Dewey’s rifle arm. Those memories will always be with me, as will many seasons, games, and plays. The timelessness of baseball is why I fell in love with the topic of ghosts in the game. More than any other sport (and perhaps more than any other American pastime), the game is steeped in nostalgia and tradition. Names and teams of the past are often brought up in comparison to the present. Having unearthed hundreds of ghost stories on my favorite spit of land (Cape Cod), I thought there would be no doubt I could also find similar stories in a game so steeped in history and lore.
Baseball players seem to be some of the most superstitious athletes on the planet. Some are afraid to step on the third- or first-base lines when coming off the field, others don’t wash their helmets, did you encounter any players who were afraid to talk about the subject of ghosts and hauntings at ballparks?
Of the over 800 current and former major leaguers we interviewed, many weren’t shy at all about their superstitious rituals, particularly when directly asked about it. One back-up catcher for the Pirates demonstrated the order in which he always put on equipment. Nomar Garciaparra, who has one of the most recognizable between-pitch rituals of any hitter in the game, sat down with me and explained the evolution of every one of his tics.
Before our first interviews, I thought players might in fact be uncomfortable sharing ghost stories — and some indeed were — because it might lead to ribbing from teammates, but instead we approached player after player — even some who preferred not to talk with the media — who seemed happy to talk ghosts and take their minds off the pressures of the day.
Of course, there were a few who feared the topic. When I asked David Ortiz about rumored hauntings at the Vinoy, the visiting team hotel of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Big Papi backed away waving his hands in front of his face and said, “I don’t want to think about that stuff!”
Also, a few deeply religious players seemed unaccepting of ghosts. Asked about an injury curse in Anaheim, Tim Salmon explained to us, “I’m a Christian, so I always refuted that one by saying, ‘My God is better than any curse or God they may think up.'” Salomon Torres, a longtime Pirates reliever and Jehovah’s Witness, told me he walks away from conversations when his teammates talk about ghosts, a popular subject in the Pirates clubhouse (particularly after a few coaches reported encounters at the Vinoy) and believes that ghosts are demons in disguise.
Just about every player believes on some level in the “baseball gods,” a popular expression in the game for baseball karma. But many players regard these “baseball gods” as actual entities that mete out justice. “They’re the theoretical powers that be that govern or watch over baseball,” Tom Glavine told us. “They’re some designees of the higher God, appointed to watch over the game.”
Diamondbacks third baseman Chad Tracy suggests they even protect the ghosts. “Don’t talk about how Babe Ruth didn’t face as good a pitching as we do today,” he says. “Because the baseball gods will bite you, man.”
What do you think is the most haunted ballpark in the world and why?
Wrigley Field. Security guards who patrol the famous park after dark shared with us dozens of creepy tales. The bullpen phone, which is a direct line from the dugout and cannot be dialed from anywhere else, sometimes rings across the empty field, when no one is in the building. The prevailing theory is that it’s Charlie Grimm, the Cubs legendary player and manager from the 1930s, calling the bullpen to make a pitching change. Rumor has it that the departed manager’s ashes are buried in left-center field. The guards have also reported hearing their name called out while they’re on patrol in the building and occasionally running into Grimm in the hallways.
It is not surprising that a city as steeped in baseball history as Chicago has accrued some diamond lore over the years. In researching Haunted Baseball, we found that teams with deep baseball roots (like the Cubs, Giants, White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox, et al) had developed the most legends.
But it’s fair to say that no city rendered more stories than Chicago. At Wrigley, players and fans told of balls hit into the ivy that then “disappear,” rumors of Harry Caray’s ghost lingering in the park (the Tribune Company even brought in paranormal researchers to investigate the claim), and shadowy figures glimpsed in offices and bleachers.
Couple that with endless pre-occupation with billy goats, fans surreptitiously dropping their ashes in the ivy, and rumors that the late popular songwriter and Cub diehard Steve Goodman’s ashes are buried under home plate, and you’ve got the most haunted “friendly confines” in the world.
Do you think some of these “ghosts” and “curses” are just scapegoats for poor athletic performance by some of the players?
That’s an interesting idea that players brought up with us from time to time. Sharing his thoughts on the late-“Curse of the Bambino,” Jason Varitek told us that the BoSox “had always just gotten outplayed at the right times,” which was why they went 86 years without a championship. The team’s former fixture in right field Dwight Evan said, “All the things that happened to us would probably make you think that [we were cursed], but not really. You make your own breaks.”
Many players regard curses as merely something fun for the fans and media. Although there are times when the buzz about curses and the drought of not winning does seem to wear on their psyche. Chicago Cub Derrek Bell admits that sometimes players “try too hard” because of all the pressure that is on them.
We heard similar comments from players in San Francisco, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay-all places rumored to be cursed.
Then of course, there are those who think that ghosts play a role in the success or failure of teams. Mickey and I spent many months exploring the popular notion that the “Ghosts of Yankee Stadium” help the home team in key situations. We interviewed hundreds of players — including Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, A-Rod, Nomar and Johnny Damon — who think that more than just the Yankees active roster dresses for the games. But there were also a few skeptics who argue that it’s the talent on the field that determines the outcome. “They talk about the ghosts coming out in the ninth inning,” says Bronson Arroyo, “but with that heckuva lineup they’ve had for a long time, it’s hard for teams to come in to close you out.”
Former Yankees GM Bob Watson, the architect of many of the Yankees winning 1990s team, told Mickey, “Mr. Steinbrenner tries to get the best players available. When you have the best players, bad things happen to the visiting team.”
The antighost argument is bolstered by the fact that the Yankees have staged some impressive wins — including remarkable comebacks — in parks all around major-league baseball, not just in Yankee Stadium. If the ghosts are responsible, they must be traveling with the team.
What is one of the strangest ghost legends you uncovered while researching Haunted Baseball?
It’s difficult to say, because we found so many. If I had to choose one, I’d say la llorona stories and Dodger Stadium. I’m sure many Ghostvillagers know the popular Mexican legend, which has many variations, about a mother who drowns her children and roams the earth as a ghost in search of her lost children. In Los Angeles, with its rich Mexican-American heritage, there are variations of the story.
Dodger Stadium rests on the land of a former Mexican American community Chavez Ravine (and on the site of the former Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery, the first Jewish cemetery in L.A. — behind what is now parking lot 40-41) that was cleared to make room for the ballpark. The stadium rests on the leveled-off crest of a hill overlooking the city and according to urban legend, a couple on their honeymoon taking in a breathtaking view of downtown L.A. from the hillside (at what is now the southern edge of the stadium parking lot) plummeted from the ravine to their deaths. The story went that the man fell first and upon discovering this, his wife leapt off the ridge. A story handed down from some of the old-time Dodger employees is that every now and then one could see an image of a shrieking woman dressed in white plunging over the cliff.
A souvenir vendor shared a story with us about his encounter with a “foglike object” that reminded him of la llorona stories he’d heard from coworkers. He was working late into the night counting inventory on the top deck behind the left field seats when he suddenly peered out onto the field and saw the white hazy formation originate at the Dodgers’ bullpen and make its way across the field. He would witness the same occurrence happen quite a few times during his twenty years working with the team. He told us, “One time, I actually brought a laser pointer that I used as part of my selling tools in my stand, and I pointed it at it to see what the hell it was, and it didn’t disappear. It pretty much hovered around the field.”
He also reported hearing a child following him one evening when he was working on the mezzanine level. We heard reports of phantom footsteps from a lot of stadium workers (particularly the late-night security guards). One security guard told us an eerie story about how he and his fellow officers hear a woman in high heels walking the top deck.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of stories we discovered about the stadium. We recorded several from merchandise workers who work in the stadium’s underground vaults that house historical memorabilia and lead into tunnels that travel deeper into the hill. Add to this the Hopi Legends of the domed headquarters of one of the three lost cities of “Lizard People” alleged to exist further below the stadium and there’s a whole lot of behind-the-scenes baseball strangeness in the City of Angels.
I know you’re a tried-and-true Boston Red Sox fan, and your co-author, Mickey Bradley is a hard-core New York Yankees fan. How did you resist the urge to punch him in the face while writing this book together?
Well, Mickey lives in Schenectady, New York and I live in Providence, Rhode Island, so fists can’t reach. But actually the urge to punish one another that occurs so naturally between Red Sox and Yankees fans usually never surfaces with us, perhaps because we both share a mutual respect for the game of baseball and its history. We were both born and bred fans of the game. Mickey was named at birth after the Yankees legendary centerfielder. And I was so hooked on the game while growing up that during the off seasons I would recreate miniature Fenways on my bed using school textbooks as the Green Monster. Billy Buckner couldn’t even cure me. I spent the following year (after graduating college) on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship studying baseball in different cultures.
Of course, mutual respect alone can’t keep Sox and Yankees fans from being at each other’s throats. I think what gets us through is our strong friendship, and from that we’ve also learned over the years when to bite our tongue.
Can there ever be peace between Red Sox and Yankee fans?
It would have to be brokered by the ghosts.
What future projects are you working on?
We’re actually working on a second volume of haunted baseball stories. We found so much material during our research that we couldn’t squeeze it all into one. The second book is already two-thirds written and will include more stadiums and visiting team hotels. It will also include haunted baseball stories from Asia and Latin America.
I’m also working on a card game called “Scary Cape Creatures” that is based on some of the stories from my book Cape Encounters: Contemporary Cape Cod Ghost Stories and from the rich Cape Cod Native American and seafaring folklore on ghosts, pirates, witches, sea serpents and indigenous spirits. It’s due out in late September and can be purchased on the Cape or on the website www.capecodghosts.com.
Who do you think will win the World Series this year?
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. It’s also nice to see that there are cursed teams in contention. The Cubs are in the battle for first place in the NL Central and the Indians have some awesome starting pitching — not to mention a few ghosts of their own.
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You can visit the Haunted Baseball Web site at: www.hauntedbaseball.com.