Before the colorful pair left Chicago to get a fresh start with the Miami Marlins, former Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano and ex-White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen provided us with memorable observations about the odoriferous nature of their old teams.
"There's no doubt about it, we really flat-out stink," Guillen growled when his 2005 squad went into a slump before winning the World Series.
"We stinks!" the more succinct Zambrano proclaimed during one of his 2011 meltdowns.
Maybe they were just sniffing the wrong stuff.
A new study led by Riverwoods Dr. Alan Hirsch at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation of Chicago found that the right smell can make ballplayers better.
"Across the board, the presence of the jasmine smell improved their batting performances," Hirsch says of a science-backed experiment conducted last fall at U.S. Cellular Field in which a collection of six White Sox players hit better when the wrist bands they wore were saturated with jasmine. In independent assessments by the volunteer players, their batting practice pitchers and their coaches, the hitters were judged on the mechanics of their swings, including bat speed, trajectory, the flight of the ball and the bat swing zone.
"Compared to the no-odor trials, jasmine significantly improved all batting parameters," Hirsch says. He suggests jasmine might also improve the eye-hand coordination of everybody from classical violinists to doctors who perform microneurosurgery.
While this is the first time a scent has been shown to improve a baseball player's hitting, the experiment is an extension of 25 years of studies evaluating the relationship between smells and performance, says Hirsch, a neurologist and psychiatrist who has been a longtime leader in the field.
Hirsch has conducted research showing that floral scents can improve learning skills, such as helping people complete connect-the-dot tests quicker. An earlier study with jasmine showed that the scent reduced reaction times. Bowlers who wore surgical masks scented with jasmine "knocked down more pins," says Hirsh, who credits jasmine for the improvement. "Or maybe it's just that the surgical masks got rid of the bad smells found in bowling."
While he laughs when he says that, Hirsch says bad smells can play a role in performance.
"We've also been looking at unpleasant odors. Bad smells around pig farms in Southern Illinois make people more aggressive and more pessimistic," Hirsch says. A school south of Chicago suffered more discipline problems on days when students got whiffs of a nearby mulching facility, he says.
The author of several groundbreaking books and hundreds of articles about smell, Hirsch has linked smells to weight loss, sexual arousal and a score of human emotions.
If you want to encourage empathy, add the scent of eucalyptus to a situation, Hirsch says. Older men find vanilla sexy. A woman who emits a mixed floral scent is judged to be 12 pounds lighter than she is, Hirsch says. Smells affect the way people perceive others.
"You are as you smell. If you smell good, people are more likely to see you as good," the doctor concludes.
One of his most talked-about studies showed that men are most sexually aroused not by an expensive perfume but by a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie, while women get turned on by the smell of Good & Plenty licorice candy and cucumbers.
"Although Good & Plenty and banana-nut bread also works," says Hirsch, who adds that he is happily married.
Another of his studies found that single and married women prefer their partners' kisses to taste fresh, like minty toothpaste. But men's kissing preferences depend on their marital status. Married men prefer kisses that taste of spearmint or peppermint, while single men prefer their date's kisses taste like alcohol.
"I suspect that was a learned response in that (the addition of alcohol) was a sign of a more successful date," Hirsch says slyly.
If smells can mess with our moods, our weight, our learning abilities and our sexual arousal, why can't they turn our Cubs and Sox into hitters who don't stink up the joint? In an era when some players turn to illicit performance-enhancing drugs, maybe the answer is right in under their noses.
"The jasmine smell improves their performance," Hirsch concludes. "It would not surprise me if we see a run on jasmine."