Monday, June 11, 2012


“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette…” goes the song written by Merle Travis for the country singer Tex Williams.  Besides saving Williams’ waning career, the number went on to huge success on the charts and remains a catchy chorus to this very day. Now thanks to televised baseball games smoking has been replaced by spitting.  It’s just a question of time before another song is born, but how to turn “spit, spit, spit” into a memorable hit?

No one can challenge the fact that television coverage of baseball games has brought what was formerly considered a nasty and illegal habit right into our living rooms every time the batter is up. I was reminded of how far we have slipped as a society during the last division playoffs when a woman seated nearby voiced what most of us keep unspoken: ”Why do they have to spit ALL the time?” Given the multiple shots of players spitting and the millions watching them do it, this disgusting habit is well on its way to becoming the new national pastime. It is surely much more of a macho habit than a physical necessity.

There are serious ramifications here, not the least of which is endangering the health of players themselves.  We are increasingly aware of infectious disease. People are being urged to cough or sneeze into their own arms, wash their hands frequently and consider carefully if they want to shake hands with every single soul they meet. I understand that the dugouts for the teams are never going to be confused with Sanitary Central but the accumulated spittle in small areas constitute danger zones. One can reasonably assume that some players are looking to be out of the dugout and into the game just to escape puddles of spit. Youngsters mimicking their baseball heroes are certainly being ill served. All you have to do is watch Little League games where copycat spitting has become routine.

If there is a bright side to this epidemic it is decreased use of big wads of tobacco held in the check. There are one or two player holdouts of course but the danger of tongue and cheek cancer caused by chewing tobacco has surely lessened. Nowadays there are substitute cheek-fillers like bubble gum. We’ll settle for team managers popping bubbles if they’ll keep our favorite teams competitive year after year, but it’s still an odd sight seeing grownups imitating a little kid’s habit. Sunflower seeds are another ballplayer spitting choice. The flying debris reminds us of the finches sitting on our backyard feeder flicking birdseed shells to grateful squirrels gathered below. Even with all this spitting and the frequent “equipment adjustments” players make while they are on camera, the game of baseball may still live on as our national sport. But as a school of good example? NOT.

Perhaps next year we will see a change, but I don’t think so for bad habits are very hard to break.  The answer may lie in strategically placing attractive spittoons in the dugout and around the infield.

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