Why do they spit?

Gary Kodner

By Gary Kodner

Why do baseball players spit so much?

Basketball players don’t spit. Well, they are indoors — perhaps they don’t want to mess up the floor or make it slippery. Football players are on turf — tough to tell under that helmet, but I don’t see them spitting. Golfers don’t spit. Do soccer players spit? I don’t watch enough to notice. Hockey players can’t spit because they are behind a plastic shield. So why are baseball payers constantly spitting?

Some chew tobacco to create a real disgusting spit. In 2011, Major League Baseball and the players’ union came to an agreement on spitting: Players were strongly encouraged not to use chewing tobacco where fans can see them. It was a bad influence on youngsters and the known carcinogens were a serious health threat. Like many baseball rules, this one is generally ignored. In recent years, sunflower seeds and bubble gum have been taking the place of tobacco. But they spit that stuff too. Have you ever seen the floor of the dugout after a MLB game? It’s a mess of spit, shells, gum, tobacco, saliva, wrappers and cups. Do they not believe in trash cans?

So, Why do baseball players spit so much? Tradition!

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Chewing and spitting can be traced back to baseball’s origins in the 1800s. Players back then would chew tobacco in order to stay moist on dry, hot days. All games in the early days of baseball were played in the daytime, during the hot summer on a dry, dusty field. They had no PEDS, energy drinks or stimulants. The tobacco provided the juice to give them a boost. Tobacco juice was also used as a lubricant to be rubbed into their mitt. It could also be used to get a better grip or change the rotation of the baseball. Baseball players are notorious for trying anything to get an edge.

If you ask a modern day player why they spit, most would say that it is by habit or just nervous energy. Other believe they spit because they are outdoors, playing on grass and dirt. So then why don’t golfers and tennis payers spit?

So, I guess it’s just a baseball tradition. It’s inherited behavior. But its disgusting and unnecessary. I doubt these guys spit at home. I have seen Major League baseball players play golf, and they don’t spit on the course.

Ironically, baseball players spit, wipe, rub dirt on baseballs, uniforms and equipment. Yet on a recent photo shoot at the St. Louis Cardinals, I was asked to not chew gum and to wear gloves when in the presence of a Rogers Hornsby bat and uniform. The World Series Trophy is man-handled, passed around doused with beer, champagne, maybe even some spit. Then, it is polished and kept in a glass case. Very few are allowed to touch it, and only with white gloves.

The Cardinals museum will even let you hold Stan Musial’s bat. A bat he spit on frequently and even hammered nails into. But if you want to hold it, you have to wear gloves.

There are legendary moments in the culture of spit: One time, former Chicago Cubs Manager Don Zimmer, a major league tobacco chewer, got so angry at the umpire during an argument that he pulled the chaw out of his mouth and threw it to the ground. Unfortunately for Don, his denture plunged into the dirt with it! Yuck!

Now that we are in the era of high-resolution, large screen television coverage, it really would be nice if they quit the spitting. It’s not a good tradition and I am sick of watching it.

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