Oct. 14, 2008 -- The Boston Red Sox may have a secret weapon disguised as a fashion accessory that might help them in this year's baseball playoffs.
About half the team members now wear vinyl necklaces embedded with titanium made by the Japanese company Phiten, a spokesman for the company tells WebMD.
Phiten claims that its necklaces, bracelets, and titanium-infused clothing produce an electrical charge that relieves pain, increases energy, and speeds recovery.
Actually, the necklaces are more of a phenomenon than a secret in sports circles, even though there is no independent research to back up the company's claim of medical benefits.
Not Just Red Sox
Scott McDonald, who is a Seattle-based sales manager for Phiten, says close to 300 professional baseball players and scores of pro and amateur athletes in other sports wear the company's products.
"I'd say about three-fourths of the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins players use them," he says.
Some are even paid to endorse the products, including Red Sox starting pitcher Josh Beckett and pitcher Joba Chamberlain of the New York Yankees.
The necklaces, which sell from around $25 to $40, have become so popular that you can now get them in the colors of your favorite Major League Baseball team.
In the U.S. the necklaces are mostly associated with athletes, but that's not the case in Japan and other parts of Asia where they were first introduced by the company a decade ago, McDonald says.
"Our main customer base is regular people with shoulder and neck pain," he says.
Medicine or Superstition
So how can a product with almost no research to back up its health claims become so popular?
Connecticut College professor of psychology Stuart Vyse, PhD, says the fact that the company provides a scientific explanation for how its products work adds to the appeal.
According to the company's web site, the necklace core features "micro sized titanium spheres, as well as carbonized titanium" designed to "stabilize the flow of electric current and increase your body's energy level."
Vyse is the author of the book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.
"People don't understand science all that well, so if you throw some science speak at them it sounds plausible," he tells WebMD.
He says athletes are more likely than other people to be superstitious because they engage in activities with highly desired outcomes that they can't completely control.
"Baseball players are particularly superstitious, in part because of the culture and in part because there is a lot of down time in baseball where nothing much happens," he says.
In other words, baseball players tend to have a lot more time to obsess about a game that they have little control over, and more time to come up with superstitious rituals.
"These necklaces may be a clothing-related ritual, like the rally cap," he says.