Two weeks ago, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder revealed to the world that he had converted to vegetarianism. The change came after his wife Chanel gave him ?Skinny Bitch,? a bestselling book that promotes veganism and decries the meat industry. After reading the book, the 260-pound slugger decided he no longer liked the idea of eating meat.

There has been some speculation that Fielder made the change to lose weight, but he denies those allegations, saying it was merely his distaste for animal slaughtering practices that led him down the path of lentils and soy burgers.

There have also been concerns Fielder?s new meatless diet will sap him of his power, but he has assured reporters his lifestyle change has him feeling energized. He also reportedly does not miss meat, saying he has begun to appreciate foods previously absent from his diet. In the Journal Sentinel interview, Fielder waxed enthusiastic about the newfound variety he had introduced into his diet saying, ?Rice, beans, tofu. You?ve got a lot of good food, baby!?

However, if grains, legumes and soy fail to fuel the star?s home run hitting, fans have nothing to fear ? his wife has promised to cram red meat down his gullet the moment his bat starts packing less punch.

Fielder?s change of diet has drawn a good deal of attention, but he is hardly the first baseball player to venture outside the usual dieting norms.

One of the oddest diets in baseball history is that of Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, formerly of the Boston Red Sox. He earned the nickname ?The Chicken Man? from his teammates because he routinely ate chicken before every game.

Although chicken is a very nutritious food, it seems that Boggs? fondness of fowl came more from superstition than from a perception that the bird was ?performance food.? Of his habit, he once said, ?It’s like a rabbit’s foot to me, except instead of carrying it around, I have it inside me.? During his career, Boggs would go through different phases of what he referred to as ?good luck chickens.? Depending on how he was hitting, he would eat almost exclusively one particular preparation of chicken for a season.

An even more absurd superstition was former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Denny McLain?s practice of drinking an entire case of Pepsi-Cola throughout the course of a game. Because of soda?s tendency to cause insulin spikes and sap the bones of their calcium, most physicians would deplore this practice, but it seemed to serve McLain well. He was the last man to win 30 games in a baseball season, going 31-6 in 1968.

However, the lazy, hazy, crazy soda-guzzling summer of McLain?s career would not last long. By 1973, he was out of the majors. Since then, he has struggled with his weight, served time for fraud in federal prison and entered into several unsuccessful business ventures. One cannot help but imagine McLain?s favorite beverage tasting bittersweet on his lips today as he remembers the early promise of his baseball career and its subsequent unraveling.

These players? dietary choices are an interesting case study in why people eat what they eat. Because athletes are so pressured to maximize their efficiency, they would presumably eat exactly the foods scientifically determined to give them the best chance of success.
However, the cases of Fielder, Boggs and McLain show that this is not the case. No doctor told them their hits would fly farther or that they would round the bases faster if they consumed a vegetarian pilaf, barbecued chicken or some cola.

Granted, the three men clearly have differences of rationale in choosing their diets: Fielder?s seems more motivated by personal conviction, while Boggs and McLain appear to have made their choices based on little more than superstition. Nevertheless, all three players saw food as something more than just biochemical fuel. Because of the way they felt about what they ate, their diets nourished them in a way that goes beyond carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Jason Engelhart is a senior majoring in economics and history. He can neither hit a baseball nor claim a dietary eccentricity, but we still think he?s an OK guy. E-mail him at [email protected]