Marty Noble

Players have plenty of unique idiosyncrasies

Players have plenty of unique idiosyncrasies

When Billy Williams was in the on-deck circle, he'd put a stick of gum -- Wrigley's, of course -- in his mouth and chew it until he reached the plate. Then he'd remove the wad, flip it in the air and hit it with his bat. He always made contact.

When Randy Myers climbed from the infield grass to the rubber, he always did so from the back of the mound. Henry Aaron always waited until he was in the batter's box before he put his helmet on his head. And he always used two hands, but only after he stood the bat on its barrel end and placed the handle between his thighs.

Richie Hebner obsessively tugged at the back of the neck of his uniform shirt while in the box and pirouetted on one foot after a swing and miss.

And these: After a swing and miss, Robinson Cano almost always walks forward into fair territory and then around the catcher and umpire before stepping back in.

In the 1960s, Yankees reliever Luis Arroyo routinely eschewed the bullpen gate and vaulted over the short fence at the old Yankee Stadium.

Mike Piazza often recoiled and sneered after making solid contact, actions David Wright first noticed and brought to light. And then there's Wright; he does a deep knee bend before stepping in, and then he holds his bat upright and stares at it momentarily as if communicating with it.

And so on and so on and so on.

Identify these routines as you will, as habits, idiosyncrasies, mannerisms or just wanton silliness, they are what we see as unique behaviors that distinguish the men who play the game in ways that seemingly would have little effect on their performances.


But Myers, one-third of the Reds' Nasty Boys bullpen contingent of 26 years ago, would have resisted strenuously had he been forced to climb the mound from any direction other than his preferred route. And who knows? An alternate route to the rubber might have unplugged his fastball or diluted his machismo.

And Hebner, one of the members of the Pirates' famed Lumber Company, couldn't help himself; he tugged on his uniform and executed his one-legged spin as readily as he drew a breath. If he didn't tug, his lumber might have turned into balsa wood.

Almost every player has something he does almost unkowningly as he bats, pitches, runs the bases, defends or prepares to perform.

Some of the actions are conspicuous. Remember the antics of Mark Fidrych. We all saw Rickey Henderson wiggle his fingers as he he took a lead. And if you recall pitcher Ron Kline at all, you might remember that he fidgeted with his belt, on his right side, as he received the catcher's signs. And Jesus, the third Alou brother, rotated his neck when in or just outside the box, as Danny Glover did before pulling the trigger in "Lethal Weapon."

Some were subtle: Lou Piniella regularly practiced his stance between pitches while in the outfield.

Others were borderline undetectable. How many folks could have noticed what Tim McCarver observed about Aaron's patterned at-bats? "After he put his helmet on [in his distinctive, two-handed manner], he always cleared his throat. 'Ahem,'" McCarver says. "And the next thing you'd hear was the sound of a two-run double."

In contrast, we had Jim Palmer, whose on-mound practices were recognized by all, but mostly by Storm Davis, nicknamed Cy Clone by Orioles teammate Mike Flanagan for his copycat ways. Palmer -- and Davis too -- regularly swept the mound, from end to end with his spiked shoe.

Monitor the game closely -- as closely as, say, a 10-year-old does -- and more of these peculiarities will become apparent. They might even fascinate the observer. With Opening Day on the not-too-distant horizon, we soon will be able to watch for more of the peculiaries that can be so intiguing or merely entertaining.

We might point them out here from time to time, so share what you see. Send in descriptions of the mannerisms and quirks of current players you have noticed.

I recall, for instance, Keith Hernandez stepping into the box, fidgeting and then stepping out and taking two full cuts before stepping in for good. He felt comfortable and better prepared to do battle that way, he said.

As a native of the Bronx, I vividly recall Mickey Mantle's unique method of removing his helmet following a strikeout. Mick would palm his helmet as if it were a basketball and lift it straight up, off his head. Then he'd blindly flip it -- as if he were shooting a basketball -- as he approached the dugout.

Though Mantle was a switch-hitter, he used his left hand exclusively for his patterned helmet removal procedure in home games. When the Yankees' dugout was on the third-base side, he used his right hand.

Yogi Berra had a signature procedure as he approached the plate. His routine began as he left the on-deck circle with two bats. Yogi moved then in various directions to loosen up. And when he arrived at the plate, he put one of them in his right hand and blindly extended his arm back until the batboy grabbed the weapon.

Jim Bouton frequently lost his cap when he delivered a pitch as a member of the Yankees and even years later when he pitched in the Met League in New Jersey. And lesser-known John Pacella lost his cap on almost every pitch in his time with the Mets.

But those falling caps were the unintended results of the mechanics of those pitchers, and therefore are quite different from, say, the choreographed routine Rocky Colavito executed before and during his at-bats with the Indians and Tigers in the 1950s and '60s. Colavito would put his bat behind his back horizontally and at shoulder-blade height. Then, holding onto each end, he'd pull back and stretch. Once in the box, he would take a slow-motion swing, stop and point the business end of his bat at the pitcher. The 83 home runs Colavito hit in 1958 and '59 made his routine quite menacing.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, urged to keep elbows raised when he batted, conspicuously flapped his left arm as a self-reminder to keep the elbow away from his body. The results of that unique mechanic were mostly well-struck hits.

Palmer, 6-foot-3 without spikes, always stood atop the rubber when his significantly shorter manager visited the mound. There was a method to that madness; Palmer would tower over 5-foot-7 Earl Weaver and, he thought, enhance his sense of superiority. And Weaver hated craning his neck to look into Palmer's baby blues.

And of course, Al Hrabosky developed a second personality when he pitched. An otherwise pleasant soul, he'd transform and become the "Mad Hungarian," moving behind the mound, turning his back to the plate, walking toward second base, massaging the ball as if he were strangling it, taking an exaggerated breath, pounding the ball into his glove, storming back to the mound, staring down his adversary and delivering.

It worked for him. But nobody copied.

Which was more menacing, the Hungarian's act, Colavito's point or Willie Stargell's habit of windmilling his bat and moving his heels off the ground in a way that suggested he was quite eager to swing?

Stargell stood mostly upright as he awaited the pitch. Willie Mays' body language was similar -- even if his stance wasn't. He moved as if he couldn't wait for the pitch to arrive, eagerness on display.

And Vic Power, an animated right-handed hitter with the Indians of the '50s, bent at the waist, holding his bat in his left hand and pointing it downward. He would move it like a pendulum with his left hand but never grasp it with his right until the pitcher was in his delivery.

And if catcher Jerry Grote had the ball in his hand when a half-inning ending, he would roll it to the side of the mound farther from the opponent's dugout, just to make the opposing pitcher exert more energy getting to the ball. Again, method to a madness.

Again. Ever notice?

Marty Noble is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.