Justin Henry starred in baseball a Vicksburg High before moving on to Ole Miss, where he played alongside his brother Jordan. Both were ridiculously talented athletes, but it was Justin who knew the game of baseball more than any other person I have met.
Among his baseball traits was his strict adherence to the superstitions of the sport. When he would be called out over the public address system to take his spot at shortstop, he would approach the base line then crow-hop over the white lines.
Never ever did he touch those lines. Bad luck to touch those lines, he said.
For me, it was always the no-hitter superstition. Until a pitcher allows a hit, never ever ever should anyone mention that he has a no-hitter. Period.
Stupid? Probably. But superstitions are an engrained part of sports. As for the no-hitter, the great Hall of Fame baseball announcer Mel Allen told me there were ways to relay the fact that a pitcher hadn’t given up a hit without saying no-hitter.
“There have been five hits in the game — and the Yankees have them all” and “If you look under the Runs Hits and Errors on the scoreboard, you will notice three zeroes.”
In 1983, in the twilight of his broadcasting career, Mel was calling the Yankees-Red Sox July 4 game on SportsChannel in New York. He sat alongside a color announcer named Fran Healy. As pitcher Dave Righetti mowed down Red Sox player after player, Mel the veteran never mentioned a word.
In the seventh inning, Healy started talking about the no-hitter. In the eighth inning, Healy’s violation of the no-hitter rule intensified. By the ninth inning, only Mel’s voice could be heard.
When Righetti fanned Wade Boggs to secure the no-no, Mel let loose nine innings of no-hitter silence. Healy? Who knows what happened to him, but I imagine Mel let him know where he could put his no-hitter talk!
Superstitions transcend baseball and were evident on the football field during this year’s playoffs. In their first playoff game against Stone, West Jones Mustangs coach Scott Pierson walked on the soggy sidelines wearing duck boots and an LSU winter cap.
The Mustangs played awful in that first half and were down by nearly two touchdowns at halftime to a team it should have been wiping the floor with.
After halftime, the duck boots were history — as was the LSU cap. It was the only change in his routine that night and without the boots and caps, the Mustangs rallied to win on a late field goal and defensive stand.
Three weeks later, the Mustangs were at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. The Leader-Call had a full team, minus our chief Mark Thornton, to cover the Mustangs in their quest for the school’s first football state championship.
West Point led 14-3 when Josh “Guru” Nichols removed his shoes for some reason only Guru would know. The first play after the shoes disappeared, West Jones intercepted a pass and then scored a touchdown on the next play to claw closer to the two-time defending state champion Green Wave.
Guru walked the sidelines the rest of the night wearing only socks, honestly believing that had he put his shoes back on, the team’s new-found momentum would cease.
West Jones lost to West Point that night, but it was wonderful to see Guru adhering to the rules of superstitions.
So stay off the white lines, shuck those duck boots and for the love of God when one team has all five hits in the game, just keep quiet.
Sean Murphy is editor of the Leader-Call. Email him at email@example.com.