Why are the Royals in first place in the AL Central heading into Labor Day weekend? Perhaps the sweet smell of success comes from a bottle. No, not that kind of bottle. A perfume bottle. Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez revealed this week that he wears women's perfume when he plays.
"I learned that from [teammate Alcides Escobar], because every time he plays, he uses Victoria's Secret," Perez told Kansas City TV station KSHB. "So one day I said, 'Alcides, let me try it.' In the first inning, the umpire says, 'You smell good, Salvy.' I said, 'Thank you.' And that game, I hit a ball and everything, so I started to use it every day. Now I use Victoria's Secret every time."
Don't laugh. Perez isn't the only one who thinks scent matters. I still vividly recall the day in spring training 1994 when I was interviewing Dave Stewart before a Grapefruit League game. Robbie Alomar suddenly walked by, reached into his locker, grabbed some cologne and sprayed it liberally on himself.
"Do you always wear cologne when you play?" I asked. Alomar said that yes, he did. "To play good, you must feel good. And to feel good, you must smell good."
Alomar went on to the Hall of Fame. Which perhaps helped inspire Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon to introduce cologne into the Rays' clubhouse earlier this season as part of an attempt at aromatherapy. Maddon brought in several bottles of cologne, including Aqua Velva, vintage Hai Karate and Sex Panther, and placed them on a table with a sign that read: "Who's your Daddy's scent for success? Slap it on and let it fly!"
"Aroma matters," Maddon explained, saying that he wanted scents to produce positive, comforting thoughts during games. "I also brought a bread machine into spring training this spring so they could have bread in the morning and the aroma throughout the clubhouse." He said aroma could be as beneficial as an extra round of batting practice.
Of course, the brand of cologne is important. As Wayne Terwilliger told me, Ted Williams once asked him whether he wore cologne. When Terwilliger replied with a brand name (that I've since forgotten), the last man to hit .400 shouted: "For crissakes, that's no good! I'll tell you what you want. BRITISH STERLING!"
Hey, who's going to argue with the last man to hit .400 in a season?
As Maddon says, aroma matters. All major leaguers are very talented athletes. What separates success from failure often isn't ability as much as confidence and lack of worry. It's why players can be so superstitious and creatures of ritual. And it's not just aroma. There are more Victoria's Secret products than just the perfume Salvador Perez wears.
In his book with Larry Platt, "Just Tell Me I Can't," pitcher Jamie Moyer related that when his career was near rock bottom in 1993 with Baltimore -- he had been released by three teams since his previous big league victory -- a friend suggested he take a cue from Nuke LaLoosh and Annie Savoy in "Bull Durham" and wear a garter belt.
With little to lose (other than perhaps his dignity), Moyer slipped on a tasteful pink garter belt under his Orioles uniform one day in June that season -- and held the Red Sox to one run in 5 2/3 innings for his first win in three years. He won 235 more games and pitched for another two decades.
Moyer eventually stopped wearing the garter belt -- "Rose goes in the front, big guy" -- but carried it with him in his shaving kit the rest of his career.
Hmmm. Not sure if I wanted a whiff of that by the time he was 49, though.