Now, this is a phenomenon that you shan’t take lightly. All the way from the youngest pitchers in the smallest Little League in the heart of the United States of America to the most legendary hitters in the world who are ingrained in the record books of Major League Baseball, there is a sacred ritual that must be followed.
Lest you forget, we henceforth dub this an indubitable truth in the fabric of the game of baseball: Thou shalt fidget between pitches without even knowing you are doing it or understanding why.
We all know that this is something every astute observer – and even some that don’t even watch closely – notice when they watch a pitcher between pitches. Touch of the bill of the cap. Lick of the fingers. Wipe down pant leg. Take ball out of glove. Put ball back in glove. Touch hat again. Look left, then down, then left again. Adjust the shoulder of shirt. Kick the dirt. Touch the hat one more time. Okay, now step on the rubber.
Hitters are just as guilty of the practice. Here’s a great example.
No matter how small or large, every player will perform their sacred ritual. A ritual that is all their own and perfectly unexplainable. Well, mostly unexplainable.
Baseball players can give you a reason. Well, probably two different ones depending on who you talk to…
Baseball Reason #1: Good ol’ fashion routine. The explanation looks something like this. “Hey, I want to hit my spot on every pitch, every time. And that’s really damn hard, sonny boy. So, if I want to do that every pitch, every time, what do I do to give myself the best chance? I do every little thing the same every time while I deliver the pitch. And I do every little thing the same even before I start to deliver the pitch. And I’ve been doing that for so many years, I don’t even think about it anymore. That’s why.”
Baseball Reason #2: Good ol’ fashion cheating. Yes, yes, baseball is the most wholesome game in the world…But that doesn’t have to mean that pitchers don’t try to get a leg up every now and then. We’ve all heard the whole “No foreign substances on the ball or ball field” rule and you know just as well as I do that the rulebook ain’t talking about inviting Mary Jane out to the yard. For that reason, some pitchers use their between pitch twitching to hide where they’re stashing their “magic sauce.”
Say Johnny Lefthander loves the tackiness he gets out of some nice, sticky pine tar. Well, if he reached up and rubbed his hand on his hat before every pitch…These umpires, they’re blind but they’ll catch onto that one. So what does Lefthander do? Touch his belt buckle (where the tar is actually hidden). Rub his pant leg. Take his hat off. Touch his hair. Put his hat back on. Fumble with the ball a little. Touch the ball of his hat. Touch his belt again. Pick his jersey away from his chest. Lick the fingers. One more to the belt for good measure. Now everything looks a little more natural, doesn’t it?
Sports scientists and psychologists will give you a different reason, though: stress relief. Movement releases tension. Even the most comfortable ballplayers on the field will, in their heart of hearts, admit that there is some stress involved. It’s inevitable; about as inevitable as Wendy Peffercorn getting that sweet kiss from Squintz every time you pop in The Sandlot. That unavoidable stress is the actual reason for that need for stress relief and odd twitches. Come on, some of you tap your foot at your desk just because you are nervous to even be sitting in your chair.
This is probably the real reason that you’ll see this phenomenon everywhere from the batter’s box in Petco Park in San Diego, California to the humblest Little League mound in Smalltown, Maine. It always starts young and just sort of…keeps happening. Ask a pitcher since did he start scratching his left hand with his right between every pitch and he will tell you he doesn’t even know he does that. Ask a hitter why it would bother him if he stepped into the box with his left foot first instead of his right. It’s unexplainable – but then again, it doesn’t need explaining. That’s why it’s the second un-written rule in The Un-Written Rulebook and demanding of so much respect. Everyone who ignores the "pitch clock" in every single MLB game knows it.