As I mentioned in a recent column, my wife and I are closely following the Arizona Diamondbacks this season. I think we’re typical fans. While we like the homeruns, great defensive plays and wins, we don’t necessarily like the spitting.
I may be the only person in the country who can say this, but I actually have a theory about baseball spitting. Wil’s Official Theory About Baseball Spitting is that I can predict who will be a Major League Baseball player by evaluating a group of 4-1/2- to 6-year-old boys. The ones who can hurl a stream of saliva in a dramatic arc without moving their little lips will be professional baseballers.
It’s my contention that the ability to spit develops well before the skills involved with running, batting and package adjustment. In fact, I think it’s how many young men make the decision of which sport to enter. Basketball players don’t spit. Hockey players don’t spit. Football players spit very little. Obviously, if you are adept at spittle shooting, you look for a baseball contract.
I’ve noticed that there are at least three categories of saliva spurters. The more practiced can launch a tight spiral of drool between the teeth without altering their facial expressions. Doing so becomes as automatic as blinking the eyes. Firing unintended little liquefied projectiles into the soup or salad would be embarrassing for most people at a formal restaurant dining table, but hey, we’re talking professional baseball players here — accommodations are made.
The second category of spitter must consciously coordinate the tongue, the teeth, most of the facial muscles, the neck and the lips. Despite the fact that these players really focus, the result is usually an uneven spray of droplets that barely clear the uniform and shoes. Except on breezy days.
Then, of course, we have the men with the heavy beards and mustaches. Even in this column, I will not further describe the consequences of when drool meets whisker.
Well, just why can’t baseball players play baseball without spitting? One explanation is that from late in the 19th century, most players chewed tobacco. Spitting was a better alternative to swallowing, so I hear. Even though tobacco has been largely replaced with gum, the spitting has, apparently, remained a cultural imperative.
At one time, baseball cleats were designed to help with dry footing in the base paths. Now, with spitting being such an important part of the game, cleats are designed to negotiate base paths that have turned to slurry. Why then I ask you, are baseball games delayed because of a little rain?
Based on my intense research, only one Major League Baseball player reportedly didn’t spit; Joe DiMaggio. Maybe Marilyn Monroe wouldn’t allow it?
I played little league baseball as did almost every other American boy. I don’t remember spitting or seeing anyone else flinging saliva around the diamond. Maybe that’s because in those days, baseball wasn’t such a hit on TV. We didn’t see the big boys doing it so there was no reason for us to.
I once heard of a magnificent solution to most of our budgetary woes. Since most athletic stadiums are built with municipal dollars, and since spitting in public buildings is illegal, players could be fined $5,000 for each spit spurt. That money could be used to feed to the hungry, pay down our national debt, rebuilt our military and our infrastructure, conquer cancer and heart disease.
Maybe Major League Baseball could even afford to supply each player with a dainty little handkerchief to contain the habit.
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