On last Wednesday night the Rally Goose became a thing in Detroit. During the top of the 6th inning of a 1-1 game between the Tigers and Angels, a goose made its way onto the field and after being chased around by Tigers’ staff members it took off into the air and promptly smacked into a video board and went down. The goose somehow avoided major injury and was released. Following the event, the Tigers scored 5 runs in the bottom half of the sixth and went on to win 6-1.
The Detroit Tigers and Tiger fan base have referred to the goose as the Rally Goose. This really made me wonder about the influence a goose could have on a baseball game. I used Fangraphs to look at the Win Expectancy of the Detroit Tigers for Wednesday’s game. Win Expectancy shows the percentage chance each team has of winning the game after each event and displays the events as a line graph for the entire game. This percent chance is based on the score, inning, outs, runners on base, and the run environment of the game. Fangraphs calculates these percentages using historical data. This means if team A is losing and has a win expectancy of 25%, then only 25% of teams in similar situations in the past have ever come back to win. On the Win Expectancy graph below, I added a red dot at the point of the game where the Goose caused play to stop and created a spectacle. As you can see, there is a clear change in the Win Expectancy after that moment. The Tigers’ Win Expectancy jumps from 50% to 97.1% at the conclusion of the 6th inning. I’m not going to sit here and say the credit is all due to the Goose. It could certainly be that the Angels had just removed Shohei Ohtani from the game or several other factors, but the graph shows that point of the game is definitely where the balance of the game shifted into the Tigers direction.
Animals entering the field or potentially influencing games isn’t something new and I wanted to look back at the history of these so-called rally animals and see what kind of effect they could actually have.
The first time I ever heard of a rally animal was with the Angels in 2002 when the “Rally Monkey” led them to win the World Series. The Angels were trailing the World Series 3 games to 2 to the Giants. In Game 6, they were down 5-0 going into the bottom of the 7th inning. Then the stadium played the “Rally Monkey” clip on the scoreboard. The monkey had been around since 2000, but really picked up fan support in 2002 when the Angels were good enough to make the playoffs. The fans embraced the Rally Monkey and went nuts as the clip (many having their own stuffed monkeys) on the video board set to the music “Jump Around”. The Angels proceeded to score 6 runs over the next 2 innings to take Game 6. The Angels rode the momentum to a Game 7 victory to clinch the World Series. On the Win Expectancy graph the red dot clearly marks the middle of the 7th inning when the Monkey clip was played and fans jumped around with their stuffed monkeys. The game and series shifts immediately after this point in the Angels favor.
On October 5th, 2011 the St. Louis Cardinals had their own rally animal. Down in the NLDS 2 games to 1 to the Phillies, the Cardinals were in a “win or go home” situation. In the 5th inning of Game 4, a squirrel scampered across home plate directly after a pitch from Phillies’ pitcher Roy Oswalt to the Cardinals’ Skip Schumaker. The pitch was called a ball and Oswalt and Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel immediately began arguing for a “no pitch” to be called because Oswalt was distracted. The call stood and the Cardinals went on to win the game, then the series and ultimately the World Series.
The Cardinals had more animal success on August 9th, 2017. With the bases loaded, two outs and Cardinals trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the 6th inning, Yadier Molina stepped in the box against the Royals’ Peter Moylan, took the first pitch for a strike and then pointed out a cat which had run out into left field. This fiasco stopped play for a while in order for the cat to be corralled and removed from the field (while also biting the staff member tasked with retrieving the cat). On the very next pitch, Molina hit a grand slam into the left field bleachers which gave the Cardinals the lead for good. In the graph below, the clear spike in the Cardinals Win Expectancy occurs right after the interruption (big red dot). Yadier Molina’s plate appearance after the cat changed the Cardinals Win Expectancy from 42.9% to 90.4%.
On July 26, 2015, the New York Mets had a raccoon sneak into the team’s weight room before the game. The raccoon was dubbed the name “Rally Raccoon”. Before the raccoon, the Mets were 50-48. After the raccoon, the Mets achieved a record of 40-24 and rolled all the way to their first World Series appearance in 15 years.
There have been similar examples in college baseball too. On May 7th, 2016 the LSU Tigers had lost 5 of their last 8 games. Trailing to the University of Arkansas 9-4 a baby possum ran on the field. Following the interruption, LSU cut the lead to 9-5 then scored 4 in the bottom of the 9th and went on to win the game in the 10th inning. The “Rally Possum” became part of the culture of LSU baseball as they went on to win their next 9 games. What I found so interesting about this example is that Arkansas made 2 errors in the 9th and 1 in the 10th allowing the winning run to score. This is where I believe there could be a psychological shift or loss of focus that could be attributed to unusual interruption. These types of abnormal stoppages can cause players to stop and think for a moment. In sports, over thinking can be dangerous; similar to the tactic of icing a kicker in football or a free throw shooter in basketball. This could explain how these animals could actually affect the game.
Why wouldn’t every team plant an animal somewhere to try to encode this type of “rally”? Sports psychology professor Kevin L. Burke wrote in a Sporting News article, “If coaches knew what specifically started momentum, then they would obviously try to make it occur as often as they could. Yet, it is difficult for scientists to predict and for coaches or athletes to cause momentum to happen”. Maybe it’s not the fact that it’s an animal, it’s the fact that it’s an unintended stoppage that may mess with the mind of the athlete or on the positive side bring a team together that is struggling. I would compare this to the rain delay in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The Cubs were struggling going into the 10th inning rain delay where the Cubs had a team meeting then came out and scored 2 runs in the top of the 10th to help them win the World Series. I think this sort of stoppage can dramatically affect the game, it can stop and potentially sway momentum just like a timeout in other sports.
There are however two clear examples where animals have actually affected a game winning play. On August 22, 1886, Chicken Wolf (old-time nicknames were the best) of the Louisville Colonels hit a walk-off inside-the-park home run. Wolf hit the fly ball to right field that was never even reached by the right fielder because a dog that was sleeping near the outfield fence began biting at the outfielder’s leg! The next example I’m aware of is a lot more recent was in 2013. Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians hit a line drive into right fielder that Royals’ outfielder Coco Crisp could not pick up because of a flock of seagulls blocking his view, Crisp ends up overrunning the ball and the Indians won the game.
Whether the Rally Animals really can have an effect on a ball game I don’t know for sure, but I know momentum is real and you can feel it when it shifts from one team to another. Momentum is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Sports as “the positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that affects either the perceptions of the competitors or, perhaps, the quality of performance and the outcome of the competition”. In the situations I analyzed, there is a stoppage of play that allows players to either over think the situation and become more nervous or take a break in the middle of a struggle and come together to create momentum. Sometimes these animals are used as symbols of momentum that a team can rally around. When that happens players aren’t focused so much on all the details or nerves and enjoy the game more. When the players enjoy the game teams tend to flow easier and can get on a roll. If animals can somehow be a part of that then that’s just another thing that makes baseball such an entertaining sport. You never know what you’ll see at the ballpark. Let me add the Detroit Tigers are 5-2 since the goose made its appearance at Comerica Park.