The first thing people likely notice about Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is his bushy, red/orange beard. But when he’s got his jersey on and he turns around midgame, there’s another spot that catches the eye.
Turner usually has a black smudge or smear across the “Tu” in his last name on the upper-back of his uniform. That was true in Game 1 of the 2020 World Series against the Rays, too. But while baseball players are the ultimate creatures of superstition, Turner doesn’t make the mark intentionally. It just ends up there thanks to his usual daily routine.
“When I take my practice swings,” Turner told LAMag.com in 2018, “I try to exaggerate finishing, and my bat comes down over my left shoulder, leaving a pine tar stain.”
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Batters use pine tar to get a better grip on their bat, and it’s a sticky, dark-colored substance. It can definitely leave a stain, although Turner is the only player who seems to wind up with the stain on the back of his jersey thanks to that exaggerated follow-through he mentions.
The more common place for pine tar to appear during games is on hitter’s helmets. The dirtied, brown-ish helmets that you’ll often see on MLB hitters are covered in pine tar. It’s in part because it might be on their hands while adjusting their helmet, and in part because it is a convenient place to stash for a little extra grip.
Per MLB rules, it’s legal for Turner and any other hitter to use pine tar to grip the bat, as long as the pine tar remains at or below 18 inches up the bat from the handle.
Turner’s practice-swing routine has worked for him since he joined the Dodgers in 2014. Turner hit .340 that first year and has batted .302 overall in his career with the Dodgers. That includes 116 of his 124 career MLB home runs, thanks in part to a swing change that saw Turner alter his leg kick and weight shift upon joining LA.
JUSTIN TURNER GOES BACK TO BACK THE DODGERS ARE THROWING HAYMAKERS IN THE FIRST pic.twitter.com/QUJrn5qwTT
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) October 17, 2020
The Dodgers benefited most in Game 1 of the World Series from Turner’s glove, which he flashed to make a diving robbery of Yandy Diaz leading off the sixth inning against Clayton Kershaw. The left-hander pointed at Turner in excitement after the play was made, and Turner turned around to walk back to his position for the next play, smudge clearly visible on the back of his uniform.