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The science of baseball's magical necklaces
October 20, 2011 3:06 AM   Subscribe

This is the background needed to begin to understand why tonight, as the World Series begins between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers, the field will probably be full of men who are wearing what can best be perhaps described as magical necklaces. Or, if you're the geeky type, call them +5 Amulets of Baseball Enhancement.
posted by veedubya (61 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
It seems to me that with baseball we should leave the science to the Moneyball types and the superstition to the players.
posted by chavenet at 3:23 AM on October 20, 2011


Speaking as a Boston fan, mind, any company endorsed by Josh Beckett isn't what I'd consider a ringing endorsement of its efficacy.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


First, those stupid holographic bracelets, now this.

I really do need to come up with something to sell, create a talismanic story behind it, and start charging insane amounts for my snake oil. It's that simple. And if it helps, even if the help is placebo, all the better I suppose.

Seriously, they're not even trying anymore over at the Power Balance site:
What is Power Balance™?
Made by athletes for athletes, Power Balance™ is a favorite among elite competitors, weekend warriors and every day fitness enthusiasts.

What Does It Do?
Power Balance™ contains a thin polyester film hologram, which reacts differently for each person. Give it a try and see what it does for you.

How Does the Hologram Work?
The thin polyester film hologram is programmed through a proprietary process, which is designed to mimic Eastern philosophies that have been around for hundreds of years.

What Do Power Balance™ Users Say?
Power Balance™ athletes believe in the product-for them, performance is critical to this success. The numbers of users continue to grow -try it for yourself!

Why Was Power Balance™ Created?
The company was created out of the principle that the founders wanted everyone, no matter what their level of activity, to maximize their potential and live life to the fullest.
It's like a psychologist writing this: Why don't you TELL me what you'd like it to do?
posted by disillusioned at 3:35 AM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Translate the above to: "We sell you a bracelet that costs us $0.75 to make and ship for $35. Next time, spend two quarters on one of those action hero hologram dispensers."

My personal favorite:
Does the Product Need to Touch My Skin?
No.

"Fuck, just THINK about owning one of these and it'll have the same effect!"
posted by disillusioned at 3:39 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Now introducing Placeberol, a single sugar pill treated with applied phlebotinum that relieves the symptoms of any disease! (except diabetes, do not take for diabetes)
posted by persona at 3:40 AM on October 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


I've been watching in disbelief as those stupid necklaces spread throughout MLB year-after-year. There must be something about your salary crossing the 7-figure mark that disconnects the critical-reasoning areas of the brain.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:46 AM on October 20, 2011


In addition to being a bunch of hooey, those necklaces look stiff and ungainly as hell to wear. I can't imagine they aren't actually a hindrance to performance.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:48 AM on October 20, 2011


It turns out that magical necklaces still work, even if you know they are full of $H!T
posted by jannw at 4:01 AM on October 20, 2011


The necklaces did not keep the Sox from choking during the pennant race, however.

Nor the Phillies.

Routines are comforting, they bring order into a world in which players have little control. And sometimes practical elements in routines produce tangible benefits, such as helping the player concentrate. But what players often do goes beyond mere routine. Their actions become what anthropologists define as ritual—prescribed behaviors in which there is no empirical connection between the means (e.g., tapping home plate three times) and the desired end (e.g., getting a base hit). Because there is no real connection between the two, rituals are not rational, and sometimes they are actually irrational. Similar to rituals are the nonrational beliefs that form the basis of taboos and fetishes, which players also use to reduce chance and bring luck to their side.
posted by three blind mice at 4:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ten bucks says this trend came from the Japanese baseball players playing in the U.S. In Japan these "negative ion" necklaces are rather popular, not just with athletes.
posted by zardoz at 4:03 AM on October 20, 2011


There must be something about your salary crossing the 7-figure mark that

makes $35 a piddling amount to take a chance on.

They're like lottery tickets: a stupid purchase but cheap enough that people can justify them to themselves with the sort of "well, it can't hurt and it might help, and everyone else is trying it, so I just have to take a chance" excuses that support all superstitions and wacky alternative health practices.

And most of the time, they're actually right: users get a slight mental boost with no physical harm done.

*adjusts his plutonium cock ring*
posted by pracowity at 4:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


Baseball players and fans are among the most superstitious people you will ever meet.
posted by Renoroc at 4:23 AM on October 20, 2011


Heh. I always thought that they were hippy accouterments. Not new age hippy holistic health stuff, but Phish/Grateful Dead hippy stuff.
posted by NoMich at 4:25 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thin polyester film hologram is programmed through a proprietary process, which is designed to mimic Eastern philosophies that have been around for hundreds of years.

Confucius say sucker born every minute.
posted by three blind mice at 4:29 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


They're like lottery tickets

A tax on the superstitious?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:31 AM on October 20, 2011


Not new age hippy holistic health stuff, but Phish/Grateful Dead hippy stuff.

I'd suspect we'd see a lot more shadowball being played on field if they were the latter sort.
posted by hippybear at 4:32 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


At least it's reasonably priced snake oil! At this price point, the masses (who haven't descended into utter poverty) can get one, too!
posted by smirkette at 4:54 AM on October 20, 2011


disillusioned: this is why the Power Balance website is so vague.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:00 AM on October 20, 2011


Now introducing Placeberol

I need to double my dose of Fuckitol™ again.
posted by eriko at 5:02 AM on October 20, 2011


I used to get angry at frauds and quackery but I weary of the idea of protecting the gullible from themselves. I'm switching sides and I want a piece of that ill-gotten stupidity pie. I want to invent and make so much money selling something worthless that I would consider it an honor if Penn And Teller cut to me and said "and then there's this asshole".
posted by sourwookie at 5:27 AM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


It makes a nice complement to the HGH the Cards have clearly been taking. /sour grapes
posted by drezdn at 5:30 AM on October 20, 2011


I used to get angry at frauds and quackery but I weary of the idea of protecting the gullible from themselves. I'm switching sides and I want a piece of that ill-gotten stupidity pie. I want to invent and make so much money selling something worthless that I would consider it an honor if Penn And Teller cut to me and said "and then there's this asshole".

I'm starting to lean this way myself. There was an "alternative health" expo nearby. Unfortunately I heard about it too late to register for a booth and pick up a load of river rocks from the quarry in time.
posted by odinsdream at 5:35 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I bought one of these, actually a competitor's model, but still. I just liked the color. I had no expectations beyond that and I can confirm that it did nothing but look cool. Also, I wore it around my wrist because I didn't want to look like a baseball player.
posted by tommasz at 5:55 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope these catch on more with than fans; I'd rather see these at a ballpark than thundersticks or vuvufuckingzelas...
posted by inigo2 at 5:57 AM on October 20, 2011


A man visiting the emminent scientist Niels Bohr noticed a horseshoe nailed over Bohr's office door.

"Surely you, a man of science, do not believe is such superstitious claptrap!" exclaimed the man.

"I do not", replied Bohr with a twinkle in his eye. "But they say that it works whether you believe in it or not."
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:00 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I was a kid, I was completely obsessed with the 1902 Sears Catalog reprint my grandmother owned, which was just a miraculous treasury of florid 1890s ad copy, heartbreakingly gorgeous line drawings of wonderful things, and strange devices that just...oh my.

"Joe-B," my grandmother would say in a perfectly magical Baltimore brogue, "Are you lookin' at them electric belts again? I'm beginning to think we should get you one of them electric belts, as much time as you spend on that page."

And yeah, I was looking at the page for the Heidelberg Giant Power Alternating Current Electric Belt with A Patented Suspensory that was supposed to enliven, invigorate, and enlarge the organ wonderfully. The very notion that you could electrically enliven the organ, and possibly end up looking like that Eugene Sandow, who I was already curiously fascinated with in my early adolescence, was just thrilling beyond words, even as I knew it was probably all just campy period snake oil.

When all these copper rings and magnetic bracelets started showing up again recently, though, I found it pretty sad that, once again, we're as ignorant of science as a culture as we were a hundred years ago. We're really just a giant batch of idiots around here—easy pickings for the next Heidelberg Giant Power Alternating Current Electric Belt Company to come down the pike.

Interest-only mortgages! Hybrid cars! Antioxidants! Step right up!

No wonder the world's in such a mess.

Sadly, I went so far as to attempt, with my ten year-old electrical engineering chops, to reverse engineer and build my very own Giant Power Alternating Current Electric Belt With Patented Suspensory, which involved a transformer, a mechanical buzzer, a rather large lantern battery with screw-down terminals, and a whole lot of wire and tape, and I can say without reservation that it while the organ was enlivened and invigorated, in a manner of speaking, no enlargement occurred, and none of the above happened "wonderfully."

If I have any gift of gab in my adulthood, it's probably because I spent so much time in my youth explaining why I was on the roof with an umbrella, why my brother was outside in the snow wearing a feed sack, and exactly how I managed to end up with an astonishingly geometric pattern of welts on my penis.
posted by sonascope at 6:01 AM on October 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


are these the same thing as those chunkier looking necklaces that a bunch of the players are wearing? they look like their made out of threads of plastic woven together. and thus also look uncomfortable to wear.
posted by sio42 at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2011


no terry these arnt beers theyre holographic barley extract juice
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:17 AM on October 20, 2011


Ahhahahahahaha.

Uh, huh, and the knowledge crystals?
posted by adamdschneider at 6:18 AM on October 20, 2011


Jobu wants more chicken nuggets.
posted by Runes at 6:22 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The secret to these supposed benefits: titanium nanoparticles that help the body's own energy flow more readily.

How would like to be the owner of your very own bridge?
posted by Fizz at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exploring the outer limits of the placebo effect : how 'bout horses?
posted by suckerpunch at 6:41 AM on October 20, 2011


Placebo Bands! Order yours today!

Q. Some other similar looking products claim to be imbedded with frequencies that interact with the human body. Does Placebo Band have anything like this?

A. Placebo Band doesn’t come pre programed in any way. If you wish to have your band “imbedded with frequencies” we suggest placing the band prominently on top of or in front of the largest speaker you have while playing your absolute favorite song ( eg. Groove Is In The Heart by Dee Lite). Not only will you have listened to something that improves your mood straight away but you will be reminded of the song and that good feeling every time you wear Placebo Band.

posted by jazon at 6:58 AM on October 20, 2011


The necklaces did not keep the Sox from choking during the pennant race, however.

Didn't you read the fine print? "Do not mix with beer."
posted by papercake at 7:02 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exploring the outer limits of the placebo effect : how 'bout horses?
I'm reasonably certain they'll be able to turn up some regulation that disallows the wearing of horses during major league baseball games.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:16 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's got electrolytes.
posted by fusinski at 7:29 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There must be something about your salary crossing the 7-figure mark
Yeah you become famous enough to be offered lots of money to extol the virtues of snake-oil and greedy enough to say yes.
posted by fullerine at 7:32 AM on October 20, 2011


I'm reasonably certain they'll be able to turn up some regulation that disallows the wearing of horses during major league baseball games.

And that's why I prefer the minors.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:57 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh lord. My brother has one of these things. He wore it out to Easter dinner with my family. Before we entered the restaurant, I caught sight of it and suggested that maybe it wasn't much of an out to dinner look. Perhaps he might like to take it off while we ate?

NOPE! He was all skittery and uncomfortable. He was definitely worried that taking it off would fuck up his qi or whatever. He tucked it into his shirt. Those things are not very pliant at all and it looked pretty uncomfortable, but at least he would have the strength and endurance to get through eating some Surf and Turf with Gramma.
posted by troublewithwolves at 7:59 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Now I have to start keeping track of how well the guys who bless themselves before their at-bats do against pitchers with the magic necklaces. Are there any sabermetrics data on this yet?

I do feel bad about all the kids out in the boonies throwing away their allowances or hard earned pennies to buy one of these things - and the people who are getting rich off of it.
posted by charlesminus at 8:17 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do feel bad about all the kids out in the boonies throwing away their allowances or hard earned pennies to buy one of these things - and the people who are getting rich off of it.

That's your answer when people ask "what's the harm in the players wearing them?"
posted by pjaust at 8:23 AM on October 20, 2011


MetaFilter: Not new age hippy holistic health stuff, but Phish/Grateful Dead hippy stuff.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:29 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope these catch on more with than fans

They have. One of my nephews wanted one for his birthday earlier this year because they're really hot in his demographic. His mother (my SiL) said nobody else in the family, including his grandmother the big baseball fan, would get it for him. We held our noses at the stench of pseudoscience, but decided it was worth it to give the kid, who is in junior high, the trendy toy. It made him very happy to have it, and I'm glad he's not the kid who can't have the cool thing because his folks are mean, but I really hope he's not under the illusion that it'll do anything for his athletic performance.
posted by immlass at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I get to work on a job that I hate, I get a nocebo effect. I shake involuntarily and breathe too shallow. Wholly psycho-somatic, of course--but it still happens.

Since placebos and nocebos both use the same effect, it stands to reason that you can counteract one with the other. So when I notice this problem, I grab some random object, declare it my placebo, and do something with it until the shakes go away. Sometimes I rub it, sometimes I pick it up and put it down...whatever.

Seems to work.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2011


Superstition causes bad luck.
posted by Floydd at 8:47 AM on October 20, 2011


Not new age hippy holistic health stuff, but Phish/Grateful Dead hippy stuff.

It's Jesus peace, not hippie peace!
posted by adamdschneider at 8:49 AM on October 20, 2011


I assumed the players were all (or mostly all) paid to wear these things.
posted by exogenous at 9:28 AM on October 20, 2011


They have. One of my nephews wanted one for his birthday earlier this year because they're really hot in his demographic.

Yeah, my little cousins have these.
posted by limeonaire at 9:32 AM on October 20, 2011


"Well, I don't see any Tigers around here. Do you?"

*kicks Detroit fans while they're down*
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:15 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


When Phiten first hit the market (here, anyway), it was catered to golfers. Supposed to help with their swing and they wore it on their wrists. It got extremely popular with the locals because of the similar placebo effect and everybody swore their game improved.

I think the company started in Japan and their products became popular with baseball players there; maybe the jump to MLB coincided with the influx of Japanese professionals?

My friend will not let his son wear it, despite the boy's protests and desire to fit-in with his little league team. However, it's not because my friend thinks Phiten is fake (he does), rather it's because whenever his son wears the necklace he becomes a hyperactive little shit and virtually uncontrollable. These things should be advertised with a list of possible side effects!
(May cause bouncing off of walls; May result in time-outs and no video games for a week)

And I was a firm believer in the baseball superstition, back in the day. I used to think that I absolutely needed to put my socks on left foot first then right, followed by shoes in the same order. Otherwise I'd have a bad day.

I no longer hold much to superstitions now, in softball. But I still put my socks on left to right, then shoes. And sometimes, I hesitate when lacing up my cleats, because I try to remember if it was the "left over right" crossing through the eyelets that got me extra-base hits, or the other way around.
posted by CancerMan at 10:18 AM on October 20, 2011


The late great umpire Ron Luciano wrote in his first book that one particularly superstitious player's time to first base was "4.2 seconds, 3.9 without beads."

Some things never change.
posted by delfin at 10:38 AM on October 20, 2011


My older, preteen son got one. I told him it was hooey, but that he could wear it if he wanted (it was pretty big and, as mentioned above, pretty stiff). he was less than pleased by the thing. The buckle fell apart after a couple of days, so he didn't lose face when we sent it back.

My wife suggested I braid a replacement for him using some paracord, since it looks the same, but he quietly demurred.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2011


I suspect that this might all be missing the point - I don't know how susceptible the players are to these snakeoil fads, but traditionally, the snakeoil salesman pays the superstars to be seen with the snakeoil, and reaps the profit from massively increased sales to everyone else trying to look like the stars.

Are we sure that the players are morons, or might this just be garden-variety product-placement?
posted by -harlequin- at 11:16 AM on October 20, 2011


MLB should ban them as "performance enhancing". Then grab some popcorn as the backpedaling begins.
posted by sourwookie at 12:25 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: an astonishingly geometric pattern of welts on my penis.
posted by loquacious at 12:41 PM on October 20, 2011


They're like lottery tickets: a stupid purchase but cheap enough that people can justify them to themselves with the sort of "well, it can't hurt and it might help, and everyone else is trying it, so I just have to take a chance" excuses that support all superstitions and wacky alternative health practices.

"Investing" in lottery tickets does make a certain sense, in limited quantity. It is mostly a class thing, to be sure, but contrary to popular belief the poor aren't pure dupes. To a poor person, the marginal value and impact on lifestyle of $1 million is just way bigger than 1,000,000 x $1. I've even heard of investment advisers saying that you should buy a couple of dollars worth of lottery tickets every week as the high risk portion of your investment portfolio.

Now don't get me wrong, the lottery business is most certainly about taxing/duping the poor. The fact that there are real arguments in favour of limited spending on lottery tickets just makes it all the more insidious.
posted by Chuckles at 1:46 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to post about my wish for a major sports figure to just straight up say that they use voodoo to win, like the guy who worshiped Jobu in Major League, but apparently that's already a thing, with Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen being the most outspoken practitioner.

To be needlessly pedantic, Santeria differs from Haitian voudon in that it's derived almost entirely from Yoruban religion, whereas voudon blends Dahomean, Congolese, Yoruban and various other traditions along with some "homegrown" objects of worship, like Baron Samedi, the hard-partying, rum-drinking lord of the dead. (For what it's worth, "Jobu" was invented for the movie, but the rum and cigar offerings made to him are pretty standard as far as Afro-Caribbean religious practices go.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:08 PM on October 20, 2011


So wait, this is basically amber teething necklaces for grown men, yes?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:25 PM on October 20, 2011


There must be something about your salary crossing the 7-figure mark that disconnects the critical-reasoning areas of the brain.

I think that for some people, if they succeed beyond their wildest dreams, it doesn't matter how hard they've tried or how good they are; they feel that it can't possibly be their success, it has to come from someone or somewhere else, and they can lose it as quickly as they got it. So they grasp at this sort of thing like a security blanket.

Which in some ways is better than someone who succeeds without effort and believes it was all their own doing. I'd rather hang with the guy wearing the necklace.
posted by davejay at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2011


It's pretty easy to make a case that being superstitious can be a consequence of being good at baseball for physiological reasons.

Fast reactions are rewarded in baseball as they are in no other major professional sport.

People with Tourette's, such as Oliver Sacks' Witty Ticcy Ray, often have "abnormal quickness of reflex and reaction..."

OCD is commonly found with Tourette's:

Among patients whose symptoms are severe enough to warrant referral to clinics, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often associated with Tourette's.[22]

People with OCD are more likely than average to be superstitious:

Together with morbid obsessions, magical and superstitious thinking makes up one of the stranger and more misunderstood aspects of OCD. When my patients try to describe their symptoms, they preface their explanation with, “I know this sounds crazy, but….” The presence of magical thinking is probably the main reason why many with OCD have been misdiagnosed over the years as schizophrenic. Superstitious thinking makes strange and magical connections between things which logically don’t seem to connect in the real world, thus the apparent ‘craziness’. Some common examples would be the idea that thinking of an unlucky number can ruin your day, that clothing you wore to a funeral can lead to more unhappiness if you wear it again, or that thinking of the name of a disease will cause you or someone else to get that disease. ...

I would say baseball players are superstitious so often because that's a price they may have had to pay for having such fast reactions.
posted by jamjam at 6:56 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the geeky types would say - 'what the &^%$# is that godawful ugly thing around your neck?' Y'know, once we'd finished mumbling amoungst our socially-awkward selves and agreed that that would have been JUST the thing to say.
posted by LD Feral at 6:39 AM on October 21, 2011


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