Which MLB team was only one known to hire a voodoo doctor?

By Scott A. Rowan

The Chicago Cubs have hired worse—although probably not weirder—advisors than the professional voodoo “expert” supposedly hired by Philip Wrigley.

This excerpt is from “The Cubs Quotient: How the Chicago Cubs Changed the World” by Scott A. Rowan. Available now at Amazon and SherpaMultimedia.com.

Wrigley was eccentric, to say the least, and many of his ideas never panned out for the Cubs. Hiring a professional voodoo practitioner to help the Cubs win may have been the nadir of his peculiar approach to the game. Wrigley is the only known owner in American sports to have hired someone to jinx opponents—although one has to suspect that there have probably been others who did something similar and kept it a secret. In fact, that was precisely what Wrigley attempted to do, refusing to discuss this unusual employee for the rest of his life. The world would never have known the story had it not been for Bill Veeck, who included it in his 1962 autobiography Veeck as in Wreck. According to Veeck, Wrigley believed in the occult and thought it could influence games for the benefit of the Cubs.

Veeck didn’t reveal the name of Wrigley’s “voodoo-ologist,” but Jerome Holtzman identified him in a Chicago Tribune column as Benjamin “Evil Eye” Finkle, who was popular with boxing promoters during the 1930s and 1940s for supposedly jinxing opponents. While Finkle never publicly admitted that Wrigley had hired him, he did claim to be responsible for Adolf Hitler’s death.

Reporter Pat Putnam tracked down Finkle in a Miami bar for a 1978 Sports Illustrated article. The Evil Eye proved to be worth the bar tab he would likely stick you with if you stayed still long enough. “Two parts voodoo, one part fraud,” was how Putnam described Finkle. Drafted by the military in 1942, the army transferred Finkle to Europe in 1945. There the army “stationed Finkle on the top floor of a hotel in Paris and pointed him toward Germany,” Putnam wrote:

Each day Finkle rode the elevator to the top floor and from there he cast his hex toward Berlin. Two weeks after he began, word came that Hitler had killed himself.

“If they had thought of that sooner,” Finkle said, “I probably could’ve ended the war in ’43. I figured the least I’d get was a Silver Star. I never even got a good- conduct ribbon.”

Ben “Evil Eye” Finkle

Growing up in St. Louis, Finkle became a boxing manager by the age of 14 and sold newspapers in bars, a dangerous job if you didn’t have the right friends:

I sold papers all over the country; there ain’t a hallway or an alley anywhere I didn’t work in. I got the scars to prove it. You could get killed if them circulation goons caught you peddling the wrong sheet. In Chicago, I get [sic] lucky. A killer named Dion O’Bannion took a liking to me. He was out on parole for murder. The Chicago Examiner got him out cause they needed a tough street guy. He put out the word that the corner of State and Van Buren was mine. He stayed my good friend until Al Capone shot him full of holes.

After O’Bannion was shot dead at his florist shop in 1924, Finkle returned to the “safer” world of boxing, horse racing, and professional wrestling, where he began to hone his craft of “Jewish voodoo” (as he called it) with three signature hexes: “the Slobodka Stare,” “the Zinger,” and “the Whammie.” Finkle claimed his “optical infrared ray” was responsible for Secretariat’s famous win against War Admiral on November 1, 1938. It was around this time that Wrigley evidently took notice of Finkle. According to Veeck, Wrigley hired the Evil Eye for $5,000 with a $25,000 bonus if the Cubs won the pennant.45 Veeck did not specify during which season the Evil Eye was hired, nor did he mention him by name in his autobiography. But he did make it clear that Wrigley took the entire matter seriously, although Veeck did not.

Philip Wrigley

“There’s nothing funny about this,” Wrigley warned Veeck. “This man may help us. And don’t go talking to your newspaper friends about this. Or anybody else, either.” Veeck didn’t until more than 20 years later, when he thankfully wrote his life story, published in 1962.

“For the rest of the year we carried our Evil Eye around the league with us,” Veeck wrote:

At home, he sat directly behind the plate, gesturing furiously at opposing pitchers, none of whom seemed disposed to enter into the spirit of the thing at all. . . . Our man operated under a severe handicap for such a chancy profession. He could not stand cold weather. . . . On cold days, he would go up to the office, stand over the Western Union ticker and put the whammy on the tape as the play-by-play came in.

Let me make it clear that I don’t want this to be taken as a blanket indictment of all Evil Eyes. Most Evil Eyes, I’m sure, are honest, tax-paying, respectable citizens. It’s only that rotten three percent who don’t give you an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay who give the whole profession a bad name.

Wrigley was the only one who took the entire thing seriously. To put the Evil Eye’s $5,000 salary in perspective, the highest salary on the 1939 Cubs roster was the $20,000 paid to both Gabby Hartnett and Dizzy Dean. In 2012, the two highest salaries on the Cubs’ roster were Alfonso Soriano’s $18-million contract and Ryan Dempster’s $14-million one. If an Evil Eye’s going rate was one-quarter of the best salary on the team, then he would have earned between $3.5 million to $4.5 million in 2012. That may sound expensive for a little voodoo, but had it helped the Cubs win the World Series, most Cubs fans would have seen it as worthwhile—which is exactly what Wrigley was hoping for.

While we have had some fun at Wrigley’s expense in this section, we have to give the former owner credit as a man who “left no stone unturned,” as Holtzman wrote in a 1990 Chicago Tribune column that claimed Finkle was a “certified hypnotist.” While there is no indication that Finkle was a certified anything, Holtzman’s claim gives Wrigley yet another first in sports history. Sports hypnosis has gained popularity over the decades, and today there are firms that specialize in this form of mental training. To his credit, Wrigley had the foresight to recognize sports psychology as a legitimate field decades before the rest of the world saw its value. If the Evil Eye was indeed a sports hypnotist (assuming hypnosis is real), Wrigley has yet another claim to being one of the founders of sports psychology.

Our bet is that Holtzman, for all his good intentions, was wrong about Finkle being a certified hypnotist; what’s more, although sports psychology is a recognized field, most people still consider hypnotism little more than a parlor trick. But if nothing else, it makes for a good story.

“It was like I found a gold mine in my eyeballs,” Finkle said of his supposed voodoo powers. And Wrigley Field was a goldmine for him, too, thanks to baseball’s most superstitious owner.

SOURCES:

Pat Putnam, “Evil In The Eye Of An Older Beholder,” Sports Illustrated, January 23, 1978, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1093249/1/index.htm.

“Ben Finkle Makes Living As ‘Eye-Opener’—But Not As Any Startling Beauty,” Sarasota Herald- Tribune, January 14, 1942, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat= 19420114&id=kJYcA AAAIBAJ&sjid=e2QEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5547,913871.

Bill Veeck and Ed Linn, Veeck as in Wreck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 46.

Jerome Holtzman, “Psychologists’ Roles In Baseball Aren’t Shrinking,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1990, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1990-1218/sports/9004150127_1_ cub-footnote-in-baseball-lore-alan-lan

 

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