Hart Seely’s The Juju Rules: Or, How to Win Baseball Games from Your Couch has received many deserved accolades since its publication in April 2012. Part personal memoir, part ode to the New York Yankees and part manual for obsessive fan behavior, The Juju Rules is a book any fan of baseball writing would enjoy.
Juju has a long tradition in baseball and in baseball literature. It was a favorite topic of Henry “Author” Wiggen, the pitcher-writer-narrator of The Southpaw and other Mark Harris baseball novels. To Seely, “Juju is the anecdotal science of influencing the outcome of sporting events through seemingly unrelated acts, in the comfort and privacy of your home. ”
This got me to thinking, though: Does juju differ from mojo? After moving into Safeco Field in 1999, the Seattle Mariners used the slogan “Sodo Mojo” for a few seasons, and it worked better than any other slogan they’ve had before or since (including the ill-timed “Believe Big” (2008), which resulted in a 101-loss season and declining attendance). With Sodo Mojo, the Mariners won 116 games in 2001, an all-time record for Major League Baseball. On the other hand, the Mariners are one of only two major-league franchises never to have reached the World Series, let alone win it (with better juju, the Yankees have won 27).
When the Mariners introduced their slogan, few fans understood it without a dictionary. “Sodo” refers to the area where Safeco Field is located (SOuth of the demolished KingDOme, or alternatively, SOuth of DOwntown). “Mojo” is more-or-less a synonym for juju. Wikipedia notes that mojo is “a magical charm bag used in voodoo, which has transmuted into a slang word for self-confidence, self-esteem or sex appeal,” as in blues guitarist Muddy Waters’ signature song, “Got My Mojo Workin’.”
My exhaustive research could only deduce that both mojo and juju can refer to a spoken or otherwise transmitted spell or to an object manipulated for that purpose. Both of African origin, the words mojo and juju can denote a magic spell or hex, a magical power (as in he works his mojo on the tennis court, or the blues band has lost its mojo), or to a fetish, charm or amulet and the magic they possess.
Well, Frank Sinatra called it “Witchcraft,” Dr. John called it gris-gris, the Mariners called it mojo, and Seely is calling it juju. “All thinking fans instinctively recognize the secret influence we wield over sporting events,” Seely writes in an essay on Foxsports.com. “We know enough not to change seats during a rally or to announce that our favorite point guard hasn’t missed a free throw in his last 40 tries. We never mention the no-hitter in progress, and we keep doing whatever it takes, as long as the dice are rolling our way. We practice juju, a mystical connection to the sports universe that has been around since the first foot-race between man and lion.”
Juju or mojo? If you can’t pick the right word on your own, hire an editor.