From Randy Johnson’s wild glare to Andy Pettite’s unnerving stare from beneath the low brim of his cap, aggressive eyes have become an effective weapon in the arsenal of today’s baseball players. But they are not the inventors of such a tool, nor is it exclusive to the men on the mound.
In fact, the old “Evil Eye” can be traced back as far as the late 1800’s, to a man named Billy Earle. A catcher by trade, Earle spent time with five different major league teams from 1889-94. He owns a lifetime batting average of .286, and was believed to be one of the better men at his position.
But his skill as a catcher was not what Earle was known for. He was famous, rather for his debilitating, hypnotic stare.
A known practitioner of spiritualism, the young catcher was said to have studied hypnotism in December of 1890. This new interest, it has been reported, was pursued in order to manipulate the attentions of a young woman whom, despite his best efforts, had rebuffed him in the past. Whether or not he was successful in this particular endeavor is unknown, but we can certainly say that Earle’s new gaze caught the attention of his fellow players.
He was, quite literally, believed to have an “evil eye”, which held all those whom he looked at in a trance. Players reported that, upon meeting Earle’s eyes, they were overcome with a “creepy, helpless feeling.” The man considered himself to be a hypnotist, as well, and dabbled in spiritual healing and magnetism.
One particular event centers around Earle and two of his teammates. While playing for a team in Duluth, Minnesota, he and fellow ballplayers Bill Barnes and John Ake were on the Mississippi River near La Crosse, Wisconsin. Their small boat was overturned by a the wake of a passing steamship, and both Earle and Barnes managed to swim to shore.
Ake, tragically, never made it. Barnes later told claimed that he would never forget the look in Earle’s eyes as he watched his teammate drown.
According to Bill Stern’s Favorite Baseball Stories, a tome published in 1949, the catcher was “forced out of baseball, because of nothing more than superstition, the belief that he was a hypnotist with the power of ‘the evil eye’.”