Zoltan (hand gesture)
Zoltan is a hand gesture in which a person has their hands stacked on top of each other, only touching at the tips of the thumbs, in order to form a letter "Z". Originally used in the 2000 stoner film Dude, Where's My Car?, the Zoltan hand gesture would become popular in 2012 with members of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as residents of Pittsburgh rallying around the team.
During the film Dude, Where's My Car?, the two main characters, Jesse Montgomery III (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester Greenburg (Seann William Scott), run into a group of UFO cultists led by Zoltan! (Hal Sparks). Zoltan has his followers wearing bubble wrap jumpsuits as part of a "prophecy" of outer space travel, feeling that "they" laughed at them when aliens existed, but with aliens indeed existing, "Who is laughing now?". Trying to disguise themselves as Zoltan followers, Jesse and Chester end up being outed. It is during this otherwise minor scene in the film that the Zoltan hand gesture is first used. Despite the success of the film, the scene was otherwise forgotten about over time.
Use in baseball
During the early part of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were visiting the Atlanta Braves for a weekend series when the team was watching Dude, Where's My Car? in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field. According to Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, the team thought that the Zoltan hand gesture was so bad that they decided to adopt it as a form of team bonding. At the time, the Pirates had endured a major North American professional sports record 19 consecutive losing seasons which, fittingly, started after the Pirates lost to the Braves at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series when Francisco Cabrera cracked a bottom-of-the-9th-inning, two-out, two-run single that scored David Justice and Sid Bream.
Soon, the team started using the Zoltan as a way for players to congratulate their teammates after an accomplishment such as a home run or a double play. Over time, Pirates fans noticed the players (in particular de facto team leader Andrew McCutchen) making the hand gesture and started doing it as well. This led to merchandise sales of t-shirts with the Zoltan on the shirts. After a Twitter campaign to encourage the "real" Zoltan to appear at a game, Hal Sparks flew to Pittsburgh on July 25, 2012 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and was on hand to see the Pirates win 3-2 over his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs. Also there to support the team was Hal's girlfriend, Summer Soltis, whose family is from the area and are Pirates fans themselves. Despite picking up a cult following in Pittsburgh and helping the team contend in the playoff race well into September, the Pirates finished with a 79-83 record, extending their major North American professional sports record to 20 consecutive losing seasons.
The Pirates would then use the Zoltan again the following season, this time not only ending their losing seasons streak but clinching a wild card spot in the 2013 playoffs. The Zoltan was still popular enough in Pittsburgh that when the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Romanian-born punter Zoltan Mesko in September 2013, Mesko declined to do the Zoltan himself for reporters, feeling that it's the Pirates hand signal and didn't want to take it from them.
- Dude, what's the 'Z'? Pirates explain - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- The Pirates believe in the power of Zoltan - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- Majors, Dan (2012-07-26). "Actor who played Zoltan on hand for Pirates win". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.