Okay, I know this is premature, as the baseball season will not start for a few more weeks, but, anyway, what is it with baseball players? To my knowledge, no other athlete considers it necessary to spew projectile saliva to the ground before each and every activity. Well, those of us who know our history will be aware that back at the turn of the century just about all baseball players chewed tobacco while playing the game. This, no doubt, got the ball rolling for the spitting tradition, so to speak. In fact, Seth Livingston of USA Today tells us that the term “bullpen” was derived from Bull Durham tobacco. This product was first produced in 1860 by the Blackwell Tobacco Company and was a favorite among baseball players who, reportedly, chewed tobacco in order to produce saliva on dusty infields. Saliva generated from “chew” also provided the lubricant of choice for the infamous spitball. There must have been a lot of brown baseballs back in those days, at least in comparison to today, when an umpire will summarily eject any baseball that has ever come into contact with anything other than a little sweat and leather.
Baseball players weren’t the only tobacco spitters in the 19th century, of course. In fact, speaking of tradition, the justices sitting on the U.S. Supreme court, to this day, each have their own ceramic spittoon on the floor next to their seats on the bench. It is reported that these containers are now used as waste baskets. Although I swear I once saw one of those courtroom hand sketches on a news program where the honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was suspiciously bending over to one side. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why she wears that little napkin tucked in her robe. Chewing tobacco has been banned for years in the minor leagues and in the NCAA, having been replaced with sunflower seeds and bubble gum. But the spitting continues.
When my young son was playing ball in our local little league some years ago, everybody on the team spat constantly. These little guys (and some gals, too, for that matter) could not hit, catch or throw very well, but they could expectorate with the best of them, by golly.
Mary C. Lamia, Ph D., a clinical psychologist, tells us in Psychology Today that spitting in this context might be seen as expressing a “fearless attitude of disdain” for one’s opponent. Thus, the more the spitting, the more the toughness (“You don’t scare me. Lemme see what you got!”). One might wonder whether George W. Bush might have used a spittoon in the Oval Office just before telling Saddam Hussein to “bring it.”
In any event, I think it would be fun if such receptacles were provided and utilized in other confrontational situations. Picture this:
• The beginning of a spelling Bee (how cute would that be…?)
• Clint Eastwood, just before someone “makes his day.”
• Me, moments before tackling a pop quiz in Mrs. Snyder’s English class in high school.
• A “raise” at the local, weekend poker table.
• You, when you are about to ask your boss for a raise.
• Your boss, when he or she knows you are about to ask for a raise.
• Our president, when he is determined to get a tax rate increase.
• John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, when he is determined not to allow any tax increases.
• One or the other of the previous two, immediately preceding America’s next recession.