Thu, Jun 23, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Baseball players in to necklaces filled with magic metal

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PHILADELPHIA

Considering that baseball players rub snake oil on their arms, smear mascara under their eyes and keep pine tar stored on their helmets, it should come as no surprise that they are starting to wear necklaces embedded with titanium.

More common in major league clubhouses than 24-karat gold chains are US$23 nylon necklaces, produced in Japan and distributed to athletes looking for the latest edge. If steroids are out, titanium is in. Representatives from Phiten, a company based in Japan that sells the necklaces, say the nylon is coated in a titanium solution that can help improve circulation and reduce muscle stress.

Predictably, baseball players have been among the best customers. Phiten estimated that the necklaces were worn by 200 major leaguers and that 80 percent of Japanese players had used them. The Mets, as desperate as any team for a quick fix, are practically making the necklace part of their uniform and trying not to choke themselves with it. On a given day, manager Willie Randolph, 20 of his players and half the coaching staff look as if they are wearing blue, black or orange Frisbees around their necks. This is becoming baseball's answer to the Lance Armstrong bracelet.

"It's so typical," Mets pitcher Tom Glavine said. "You tell a baseball player something will make him feel better, and he'll take it. I tried it when I pitched on Sunday and I lost, so needless to say, I'll never wear it again."

Rick Down, the Mets' hitting coach, models two at a time. Relief pitcher Heath Bell has one for work and another for bed. Billy Wagner, the Phillies' closer, wears one, and so does his son. But even those who swear by the necklace seem stumped by the most critical question: Does it really work?

"I guess I feel a little happier with it," Seattle infielder Jose Lopez said.

Phillies outfielder Endy Chavez said, "I think I have a little more energy with it."

Mets reliever Roberto Hernandez said: "I don't know if it does anything at all. But I'll still wear it."

Bell said: "This is the way I look at the issue: If you think it works, it's going to work. If you don't think it works, it's not going to work. But I'm going to keep wearing it, because next year, there will be something new we'll all have to get."

Randy Johnson kicked off the titanium trend four years ago when he learned about Phiten on an all-star tour in Japan. The Red Sox made the necklaces part of their fashion statement during last year's World Series.

"If it worked for them, I figured it might work for me," said Mets first baseman Brian Daubach, who began last season with the Red Sox. "Baseball players will copy anything that had success."

When the Mets arrived in Seattle on Friday, they were greeted by Phiten representatives at their clubhouse door with enough products to weigh down the team plane. Besides the necklaces, which come in 12 colors, matching any team jersey, Phiten has started selling socks, boxers, soaps, shampoos and pillow cases, all incorporating similar technology.

"Everybody has electricity running through their bodies," said Scott McDonald, a Seattle-based sales and marketing representative for Phiten. "This product stabilizes that flow of electricity if you're stressed or tired. Pitchers are seeing that they aren't as sore. Injured players are seeing that they recover faster from workouts. People are always skeptical, but when they try it, they become believers."

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