<i> Ka-pooie! </i>
What is the hallmark of the true major-league ballplayer these days? Good hitting or superior fielding, right? Wrong! The thing that denotes today’s real major leaguer, that distinguishes the pro from the tyro and the big man from the wimp, is not solid batting or sure glove work. To be a recognized major leaguer these days, what you’ve got to have is spit . Lots and lots of spit.
It may be that back in baseball’s dark ages, when a wad of chewing tobacco in the mouth was held to be as essential as a glove on the hand, more oral effluent spattered the diamond than is the case now. But what goes on now is quite enough, thank you. Observe any major-league ball game. Watch the players in the batter’s box, on the mound, in the field, in the dugout. The expectoration that goes on during a game is sufficient to make a desert bloom. It is enough to make people in the stands start thinking about building arks. It is a downpour, a deluge, an inundation. Not to put too fastidious a point on it, it is a mess.
And now, like a contagion, it is spreading to the umpires as well. Notice the man in blue behind the plate, and how frequently he raises his mask, courteously averts his face from catcher and batter, and-- ka-pooie! --lets fly. Watch the other umpires as well, particularly when they think that no one is looking, similarly spewing out a flood. Once, or so it seems, only the hitters spat. Now the habit circumscribes the diamond, with anyone in uniform entitled to participate. Soon the rain tarp will have to be put on the field during a game, however bright the sun may be above.
What explains this salivary saturation? Surely it defies the law of probability that so many men in such a confined space could all be suffering simultaneously from what the medical profession diagnoses as ptyalism, and what everyone else calls too much spit. Does this affliction manifest itself only in the field, or are ballplayers also seized by it in their dressing rooms, in their cars, on planes and in the cozy--though for all we know slippery-- confines of their homes?
Boys groping toward adolescence often advertise their incipient manhood and seek to impress their peers by spitting during athletic competitions; it seems like the macho thing to do. But major-league ballplayers are not, chronologically at least, any longer boys. They are adults, self-assured individuals who have passed the point where they no longer feel that they must run with the herd and do as others do; it is only sheer coincidence that every one of them wears a big gold chain around his neck. Surely, then, it is not too much to ask for a little more hygiene on the field, a little more gentility before the fans and the television cameras.
What’s that you say?