‘Hygiene’ is not one of the things that come to mind when you observe a baseball player during a game. This is primarily due to the fact that baseball players tend to spit quite a bit during the three odd hours that they are on the field. The only time that a baseball player is unlikely to spit is when they are chewing gum. So, why do baseball players spit so much? In this article, we will attempt to answer this question.
The Spitting Tradition in Baseball:
In the past, chewing tobacco was fairly common among baseball players. Players used the tobacco to stimulate saliva, and then used their spit to moisten the gloves. They also lick their fingers in order to increase friction and moisture in the skin, in order to improve their grip on the baseball. Pitchers regularly throw the ball in excess of 140 kilometers per hour, and conditions and fatigue often lead to costly mistakes. For this reason, the MLB allows pitchers to bring their hand to their mouth while standing on the pitcher’s mound, as long as they wipe the hands off afterwards.
Secondly, players used to apply spit to the baseball in order to alter the ball’s weight and wind resistance on a certain side in order to cause unusual movement. When the ‘spitball’ came out of the pitcher’s hand, it would not have its usual spin. Even though this tactic was outlawed over a century ago, pitchers like Preacher Roe continued to use the spitball to bamboozle the hitters. To this day, spitball still shows up every now and then, as players utilize saliva, Vaseline, and pine tar. They also cover the ball in a brown hue of tobacco spit or dirt in order to avoid sanctions.
With time, players and associations became increasingly aware of the health hazards of tobacco. Therefore, the players decided to substitute tobacco with sunflower seeds. The dugouts in the earlier days were dirt, which means that spitting on the ground was not a problem for the players.
Players chew in order to keep themselves occupied during quiet times in the game. According to Tony Oliva, the former Minnesota outfielder, you need to have something to keep you entertained during the game, or else your brain will go crazy. Even though Oliva himself never used tobacco, many of his teammates and friends did.
Chris Collabelo, too, acknowledges the spitting tradition, going back to when he was a kid. Collabelo said that, once you saw the baseball stars spitting on the field during games, you want to replicate that. When you are five years old and playing around with your friends, you go out and start spitting.
Some scholars try to rationalize baseball-related spitting by declaring it a macho behavior meant to flip off opponents by showing contempt. According to psychologist Mary Lamia, spitting can help protect the player by triggering disgust in the observers. For this reason, the act of spitting can be seen as a contemptuous or an aggressive display. Inciting disgust in someone else can be a way to disguise – or cope with – one’s own fears or anxieties. Spitting reflects an attitude of fearlessness, disregard, condescension, or disdain.
The Decline in Tobacco Use:
As time passed, more and more players continued to give up tobacco. Tobacco chew became even less common in the 1990s and beyond, as people realized the ways in which the chew could affect their health. After an agreement between the players’ union and the MLB in 2011, the use of tobacco in baseball has all but stopped.
This agreement stipulated that the players would not chew tobacco anywhere where the fans could see them. This was done to make sure that young baseball fans did not witness their stars chewing on tobacco and be tempted to start taking up the practice themselves.
In 2016, there was a collective bargaining agreement between the players’ union and the league. According to this agreement, new players coming into the league were completely prohibited from using chew tobacco. In addition, every MLB stadium has now banned smokeless tobacco from their premises.
Chewing Gum and Sunflower Seeds:
Sunflower seeds are also closely intertwined with the sport of baseball. A key reason behind the popularity of sunflower seeds is that they come in small plastic packages that can easily be rolled up and kept in the back pocket. This was very convenient for baseball players, as it made the seeds extremely accessible – you could just tuck into the bag, grab a few seeds, and chuck them into your mouth during a game.
Using sunflower seeds is a fairly harmless habit, not posing the kind of health consequences or side effects associated with chewing tobacco. This means that players can chew on these seeds and spit them out right from when they are kids to all the way until they reach the majors. Also, one can safely spit the seed shells out on the field; since the shells are extremely small, there is no chance that they could injure one of the other players.
The case for chewing gum is pretty similar, too – it is a harmless habit that a baseball player can adopt from a young age, and stick to it all the way until they are earning millions of dollars as an MLB player. If you are a baseball player, you can rest assured that the players’ union or the league will not be imposing bans on chewing gum or sunflower seeds in the near future.
Our Final Thoughts:
To sum up, spitting and baseball go a long way, and this relationship is not set to end any time soon. Not only does spitting enable players to moisten their gloves or hands and throw more lethal pitches, it also helps them keep their minds occupied during quiet phases in the game.
As John Kruk, the first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies said, “[Spitting] is natural to all of us [baseball players]”.