Baseball is relatively a dirty game. Apart from professional games where the playing fields are well maintained, other baseball games are filled with dust, mud and a lot of spitting. From coaches to players, spitting is part of baseball, since the 19th century. Baseball fans have also picked up the habit, and today, spitting is widespread in baseball games.
When spitting during baseball games became popular in the 1920s, experts attributed it to the chewing tobacco that most players used. Most players were rural dwellers who grew up using tobacco as a stimulant. The use of tobacco has been linked with oral, throat and other cancers, making it less popular as years went by.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) noticed the detrimental effects of tobacco and advised players and coaches to cease chewing tobacco on the field. This directive also had to do with the negative effect chewing tobacco had on underage baseball fans. Parents and guardians were worried players being role models could negatively influence the kids to use tobacco.
In 2016, MLB banned new players from chewing tobacco on the ball grounds where fans could see it. But that did not see a stop in the spitting tradition. So why do baseball players spit even today? In this article, we will look at why baseball players spit, what causes so much saliva in their mouths and the significance of the spit.
Why do baseball players spit?
When MLB banned chewing tobacco, players replaced it with sunflower seeds and gum. So why is it important for players to chew something and spit constantly? Here are the probable reasons:
Carry Forward a Tradition
Since the onset of baseball in the 1870s, chewing and spitting has been a part of the baseball game. The players used to chew tobacco as a stimulant to keep them alert. You cannot swallow tobacco juice, so the players had to constantly spit it out. The younger fans thought the pros did this as a signature or to look cool. Soon, the new players copied their predecessors, and so on, forming a chewing and spitting tradition.
Beat Boredom and Kill Anxiety
Baseball is a long sport taking approximately three hours. Players have to do something as they pass time and wait for their turn. Chewing gum and sunflower seeds keeps them alert. The chewing and spitting keep their minds occupied.
Additionally, the waiting can cause anxiety. To calm down the nerves, players will chew gum, or put a handful of sunflower seeds in the mouth. The latter is especially popular, where you can see players playfully throwing seeds at one another to overcome anxiety. Besides, spitting can distract an opponent for a moment thus giving the player a better chance of pitching or catching without fear.
Sometimes the players will spit on the ground, and other times they will spit on their hands, ball or the baseball bat. Spitting on the hands or baseball equipment improves grip so that the ball or the bat does not slip off. Some players may even lick their fingers, rub them on their pants then proceed to swing the baseball bat or throw the ball.
Pitchers use rosin to get a better grip on the ball. Pine tar is also popular among baseball players because it makes hands sticky, making it easier to catch the ball. Saliva also serves the same purpose, increasing friction so that the ball can stick on the palms.
Get Rid of Dirt and Dust
Playing baseball is a dirty affair, literally. Most baseball stadiums, especially the high school and college level, are made of grass with soil patches. Baseball being a summer game means the temperatures are over the top and the ground is dry. The running, the sliding and all the baseball activities raise dust and dirt, some of which land near or in the mouth. Players spit constantly to rid their mouths of the foreign particles.
Display Contempt at an Opponent
According to a psychological report written by Dr Mary C. Lamia, a certified psychologist, spitting may be a disdain gesture that a player gives to the opponent. This is a common practice in sports where one player mocks a player from the competing team. Dr Lamia outlined in the 2010 report that the spitting may “evoke a disgust in the observer, making it an aggressive or contemptuous display”.
Lamia continues to say that “the act of being disgusting can push others away”, so players can use this tactic to scare their competitors. In addition, spitting may be a coping mechanism whereby players spit as a distraction to their opponents so that the opponent cannot detect their anxiety.
Form of Cheating
Although the MLB prohibited the application of bizarre substances on the ball, players still find a way to do it. The prohibition came after one of the national league players died from an injury caused by a spitball. The victim, a catcher, could not see the ball coming, and it hit his temple.
Some of the substances that players used to make a spitball include saliva and dirt. A spitball is a baseball whose appearance or feel has been altered to make it unrecognizable or resistant to wind. Today, players don’t conspicuously apply peculiar substances on the ball, but they spit on it. MLB still considers this as cheating.
Reduce Friction on New Baseball Gloves
Brand new gloves are leathery and stiff. They do not stretch well enough as the player would like, just like a new pair of shoes gives you corns and bunions for the first few days. To ease this stiffness and reduce the friction, players spit on the glove. Although leather experts advise against it, saliva lubricates the player’s glove well enough to hold the ball or bat in place without becoming too slimy.
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Spitting is associated with baseball since the 18th century, when players used to chew tobacco and spitting out the juice. The chewing and spitting tradition had already developed when MLB outlawed chewing tobacco. Today, baseball players chew gum and sunflower seeds then spit the saliva.
This habit persists because players have embraced it as a baseball tradition. Other reasons they spit is to occupy their minds, scare opponents, moist their hands for better grip and get rid of dirt from their mouth.
Featured Image Credit : Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West outfielder D.J. Stewart of the Baltimore Orioles spits during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports