What’s With the Spittin’ Phils?

Baseball's oral fixation makes me sick

Like many Philadelphians, I was glued to the NLCS games, routing for our Fightin’ Phils. And like millions of Americans, I was glued to the World Series in hopes that the Rangers would kick some San Francisco ass. So, while hanging on every play of every game I got to wondering: Do you think all those Major League baseball players’ mothers were watching? Are their moms hanging on every pitch and every at bat? If they are, and I’m pretty sure that they are, I would have to assume that they all cringe when they see their babies all partaking of the same disgusting habit: spitting.

Come on, really, what is it about Major League Baseball? You don’t see football players spitting like that, or tennis players, or basketball or hockey players, or any other sport. So what’s up with baseball? The cup adjusting thing I get because, I can assume, that sometimes you need to move that stuff around but what purpose does all that spitting serve? Those guys must need intravenous fluids for the amount of spitting they do during a game.

I know some of them are chewing tobacco (and isn’t that a nice example for all those Little Leaguers with aspirations to make it big in baseball?) which is, let’s be honest, a repulsive habit that requires spitting, but why do they have to chew during a game, especially a televised game? Just to upset Mama? Raul Ibanez looks like he has a small rodent in there, and the rest just look like they’ve had dental surgery and the doctor forgot to take out the wad of cotton. It’s gross.[SIGNUP]

Then there are the plain old spitters. Purists in the spitting world. No chaw, just saliva. Spit, spit, spit. Spit into their hands or on the ground, but spit they must. They even swig on the Gatorade and spit that out. The bullpen must be a muddy mess by the time the game is over. Do they ever swallow?

Not to be left out of the oral repugnancy fixation, there are the non-spitters, a small group to be sure but nonetheless entertaining. Charlie Manuel chews on a wad of gum like he’s determined to break a jaw. And Ron Washington, the Rangers manager, works on those sunflower seeds like it’s aerobic exercise; chew, spit, chew, spit, shift them around the mouth at warp speed, chew and then … spit.

It’s tough to watch. Watching baseball on TV, unlike other sports, is a series of close-ups. The camera focuses on the pitcher, steely-eyed, in the zone (spit), reading the calls from the catcher (spit), waiting for the one he likes (spit), set (spit) and then pitch. The batter, likewise, uses the same time to efficiently moisten home plate, then his hands with some spitting action and usually a long-distance one for, what, good luck? Camera shot of the bullpen where everyone is concentrating on the game and … spitting. Close-up of the manager or the batting coach who are feverishly, well you know.

During this exciting season I more than once took a break from watching the game, not because of the suspense or because I needed to make a beer run , but because the spitting was getting to me, actually making me nauseous. I’d take a minute or two before returning to the television and fantasize that, after the game, all the players’ moms would call their sons, (some of them are still kids) and say, “I raised you better, stop spitting!”