- Texas Rangers face St. Louis Cardinals in World Series Game 6, postponed to Thursday evening
- There is psychological value to an item worn consistently, one sports psychologist says
- Some well-known superstitous athletes include Michael Jordan, Wade Boggs and Turk Wendell
- Manufacturer's claims of special technology in metal-infused jewelry are unproved
As Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson took to the mound Monday night, he wore a rope-like necklace that may be nothing more than a fashion choice, but if he believes in the maker's claims, that may give him an "edge" against his opponents at bat.
It's not just Wilson; a surprising number of professional athletes have begun wearing the titanium-laced necklaces, including Rangers Derrick Holland, Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus.
The "edge" the necklaces' manufacturer, Phiten, claims to give is not proved, but especially for athletes, there is psychological value to an item worn consistently, rituals and superstitions, one sports psychologist says.
"For athletes, there's this unpredictability in sports. They never know how they're going to play, how the other team is going to play, so when you do something that's superstitious, like wearing a trinket, it gives you a greater sense of control," said Gregg Steinberg, an author of "Full Throttle" and professor of human performance at Austin Peay State University.
Some athletes' rituals have been well documented: Pitcher Turk Wendell wore a necklace made from the teeth of hunted animals.
Michael Jordan famously wore his college shorts under his NBA uniforms; third baseman Wade Boggs had to eat chicken before games and wrote the Hebrew symbol "chai," meaning life, in the dirt before batting.
The extra sense of control from the ritual leads to calmness, and calm leads to better performance, explains Steinberg. Whether there are any tangible, special properties in the lucky charm is just beside the point for a sports psychologist.
Fourteen-year-old baseball player Derek Halford of Baltimore says he got his own Phiten necklace when he was 11, after watching the pros wear them.
"Last season, I forgot to wear it to a game, and I called my mom to go get it, because I refused to play without it," Halford said.
This season, he says, he views the necklace differently, but only slightly.
"I probably would still play, but my mind would be all messed up. I probably wouldn't play as well. I probably wouldn't be focused on the game, because I'd be thinking about not having it on."
His first necklace was the plain kind -- selling for $36 -- but now he has upgraded to the newer, larger twisted-rope "Tornado," which costs $50.
Halford adds this self-observation: "I got it for the purpose of making me a better athlete, but now I use it just as a lucky charm."
Bill Burgos, an NBA strength and conditioning coordinator, says that he doesn't intervene when high-performers find value in lucky charms. "When guys have a certain way of doing things, you don't want to mess with that."
The Japanese manufacturer says its products, which include bracelets worn by some pro golfers, do have a special technology that sets them apart.
By fusing fabric with "a novel form of technology that involves metals broken down into microscopic particles dispersed in water" -- metals like titanium and gold -- Phiten is "able to realize customers' potentials in a variety of extents that leads to restore normal status of customers," says the company's website.
Claims like that -- and paid endorsements from 23 professional athletes in the United States alone -- seem to be enough to convince many athletes that it's better to be safe than sorry. Better to be mistaken than without.
"Phiten has used a pseudoscientific appeal in marketing their products. They talk about 'micro-sized titanium spheres' and other things that give the product the air of technology without any real science to back it up," explains professor Stuart Vyse of Connecticut College, author of "Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition."
The Lavidge Co., which represents Phiten U.S.A., could not provide any published studies finding a medical benefit from wearing its metal-infused necklaces and bracelets.
"Baseball players and others who engage in superstitious behaviors understanding that they have no scientific support are likely to say 'I just don't want to take a chance,' " Vyse said." And they get an emotional benefit from doing something that makes them feel like they have greater control. Even when that feeling is an illusion."