Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday's Musings on Sports - Do Eddie LeBec, Matt Harvey & Yosef HaTzadik Have Anything In Common?

In last week's USA Today Sports Weekly, the Leading Off feature on the inside cover discussed the topic of jinxes in sports. The main focus of the article was the Matt Harvey "no hit" bid from the week before and the Mets' "history" of no hitters.

I use the term "history" in quotes because any loyal Mets fan would be able to tell you that prior to last year, no Mets pitcher had thrown a no-hitter or perfect game in their forty plus year history. Even last year's no-hitter which was thrown by Johan Santana had some tragedy built in as it required a game saving catch which landed Mike Baxter on the DL for nearly two months. Oh, and it might also have spelled the end of Johan Santana's career.

Back to the story, in the USA Today Sports Weekly, the article discussed how people who are observing a no-hitter will do anything not to jinx it. The archetype taboo act is to talk about the fact that there is a potential no hitter in progress, even though the pitcher can't hear you and certainly will not feel added pressure because the fan at home or even the broadcaster is aware that a no-hitter is in progress.

I can't resist not reproducing one of the best lines in the article wherein Will Leitch observed:

Every sports fan who is not an infant knows nothing he or she does during a sporting event is going to affect the outcome of that event. If you are able to walk across the street without getting lost or able to write your name in the dirt with a stick, you are aware of this. But that does not mean you should act that way.

The article made me think about a Cheers episode from when I was in high school. When Bruins (fictional) goalie Eddie LeBec came into the bar to order a drink before his game, Carla hit on him. LeBec invited Carla to the game and the Bruins won. This was LeBec's fifth win in a row and the fans were high on him. The night before the next game, LeBec came into the bar again and order the exact same drink that he had been having before each of his five wins - club soda with no ice and a lime. But LeBec varied his pregame ritual by spending time with Carla before leaving the bar. LeBec lost that game and the next seven in a row. Carla was inconsolable and she publicly dumped LeBec. LeBec knew that he dumped her because she thought she was a jinx and told her to stop being silly, but she would not take him back.

That night, LeBec won his first game and broke the losing streak. The Cheers episode continued with LeBec coming back to the bar some weeks later and ordering the same drink. When he finished his drink, Carla again publicly dumped him. A bar patron asked - didn't she just do that a few weeks ago? Everyone winked at the bar patron and LeBec left and won another game for the Bruins.

While I can rationalize and understand Leitch's point about how my rooting for a no-hitter or the announcer's omission of mentioning the no hitter will not have an impact on the game being played, there is some truth to the concept of jinx (which we know to be ayin hara). Unless the person being jinxed comes from Yosef HaTzadik. The gemara in Sotah 36b recounts a conversation between Yehoshua and the descendants of Yosef. When Yehoshua told them that they should hide so that they would not be affected by the ayin hara, they said that they are descendants of Yosef and exempt from the influence.

The gemara then recites that based on Bereshis 49: 22, Rabbi Abahu said that the children of Yosef are olei ayin, i.e., higher than and not affected by the ayin hara. Rabbi Yosi chimes in that the source is from here Bereishis 48:16 which states that Yosef's children will multiply like fish in the midst of the land. Just as fish in the sea are covered by water and the eye cannot dominate them, so, too Yosef's children cannot be dominated by the eye."

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