If you are watching baseball you might notice that baseball players and coaches spit a lot during the game. Why do baseball players spit?
Baseball players spit for a variety of reasons. Some spit due to chewing tobacco use while others spit to discard chewed sunflower seeds. Other players may spit due to dirt and dust in their mouth or just out of habit or in an attempt to boost performance.
Let’s look at a few of these habits that surround baseball that cause players to spit and why it’s a nasty habit that has established itself as a common part of the game.
Chewing Tobacco Use in Baseball
Chewing Tobacco has a deep-rooted history in the sport of baseball. In recent years, Major League Baseball has begun to understand the severe consequences this nasty habit had on the game. It has resulted in health problems for many former players and has presented a negative message to young children watching the sport.
Fans have witnessed players spitting chewing tobacco juice for many generations. In 2016 Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the players’ union, agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that banned new players from that point forward from using chewing tobacco.
There has also been an effort across Major League Baseball to ban smokeless tobacco use from stadiums altogether, fans included. As of 2018, half of 30 Major League Baseball stadiums had banned the use of smokeless tobacco on their premises.
Chewing tobacco was banned from college baseball in 1990 and from minor league baseball in 1993.
The number of players spitting from chewing tobacco use on the Major League level will decline year by year from this point forward as the current players who are grandfathered in slowly retire from the sport.
Spitting isn’t the only habit that is formed by baseball players chewing tobacco. Many baseball players eventually turn to gum as a tobacco alternative. To read more, visit our article Why Do Baseball Players Chew Gum?
Another staple of the sport of baseball are sunflower seeds. This is something that I chewed frequently myself playing baseball in pee wee and high school.
Sunflower seeds come in small plastic bags that players can roll up and keep in their back pocket to pull from while in the field. Sunflower seeds are a harmless habit that does not present the negative consequences that come with chewing tobacco.
From pee wee youth baseball all the way up through the major league level, players and fans alike have enjoyed sunflower seeds. Players will shovel handfuls of seeds in their mouth at a time and slowly spit out the shells one by one as they chew the seeds.
If you look closely during games, you can see sunflower seed shells on the infield and around the dugout from players that have spit them out.
These shells do not impact the game as they are small enough and are easily drug smooth through the infield by grounds crew members.
Sunflower seeds have been around the sport since its early years and will not be going away anytime soon.
Dirt and Dust
Baseball is played on dirt infields in the open air where wind can blow dirt and sand up into players’ faces. Add that to diving and sliding and players stand a good chance of getting dirt or dust in and around their mouth regularly. This causes some of the spitting you see while watching baseball.
At the professional level, fields are well kept. Infields are sprayed down with water before the game to moisten the dirt. This is done for several reason, but one of them is to keep the dirt from being pulled up by the wind into players’ faces.
Minor league baseball stadiums have well-kept fields also (for the most part). High school and youth baseball fields are not sprayed down before the game.
Professional fields also benefit from having a wind block created by the stands, and of course some professional stadiums are completely indoors and do not have to worry about the wind blowing dirt and sand.
Some players spit in baseball simply because it is habit. Players may form this habit because they once had a habit of chewing tobacco or sunflower seeds. It is also possible that a player has a spitting habit simply from nerves or restlessness.
Spitting to Boost Performance?
Yes, it is true sometimes spit can boost performance. Spit can help with grip. Some players will spit on their batting gloves before they bat so that they can get a tighter grip on the bat. You will also see fielders’ spit on their throwing hands and at times into the palm of their fielding glove to help boost grip and adhesion.
The spitball is an illegal baseball pitch that at one point in time in baseball history was not illegal. It was given the name spitball because saliva was applied to the baseball (acting as a foreign substance) which not only affected the rotation of the baseball out of the pitcher’s hand but also caused it to move against the wind differently than a normal pitch would.
Although he did not create it, Ed Walsh is the player who popularized the pitch. Walsh, playing for the Chicago White Sox, used the pitch from 1906-1912. This pitch helped the White Sox win the 1906 world series over their crosstown rival the Chicago Cubs despite having the worst team batting average in the American League. Walsh struck out 12 Cubs in game 3 of the world series that year, allowing no hits after the first inning.
Once pitchers realized how much of an advantage the spitball was, they began experimenting with it even more. Pitchers spit tobacco juice on the ball and rubbed it with dirt and licorice to stain the ball brown so that it would blend in with the surrounding as the pitch was being delivered, making it harder for the batter to see it.
The spitball reached a climax on August 16th, 1920, when a dirt and tobacco-spit rubbed baseball struck batter Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians in the temple. Players at that time did not wear batting helmets. Chapman died from the injuries 12 hours later. He is the only Major League Baseball player ever to die from injuries sustained while playing a Major League Baseball game.
Following the 1920 season, the spitball was banned from baseball except for pitchers who were already throwing the spitball (those pitchers were grandfathered in until retirement).
Illegal Pitches in Modern Baseball
Just because the spitball was outlawed in 1920 doesn’t mean professional pitchers aren’t looking for an advantage. Some pitchers still turn to illegal doctoring of the baseball. It is much harder to pull of in modern baseball thanks to all the cameras that are available.
Most doctored pitches today involve applying some sort of foreign substance to the baseball. Because spitting on a baseball is obvious and very difficult to hide, this is not something you will see. Pitchers will use pine tar, gum, spray sunscreen, hairspray at times to try and alter a pitch. This is usually done by applying the substance to some part of their body, then touching the residue with their fingers and applying it to the baseball before they deliver the pitch.
There are also occasions where a catcher or fielder may doctor the baseball for the pitcher while it is in play, thus keeping suspicion away from the pitcher. Doctoring a baseball is illegal and can result in a suspension of the player doing it.
Modern Baseball Pitching and Saliva
Major League Baseball pitchers are not allowed to touch their mouth or lips while in contact with the pitching rubber or touch their mouth or lips then touch the baseball while on the pitching mound.
But if you watch a Major League Baseball game you are likely to see a pitcher lick his fingers. Pitchers can lick their fingers if they wipe them off (for example against their pants) before touching the baseball. It does not take a seasoned professional to realize that a rule like is easily broken, and likely is constantly broken on the professional level by many pitchers hoping to gain a small advantage.
Spitting Confrontations in Major League Baseball
You will also see players spit at times during on-field confrontations. Some players spit at or near an opponent to disrespect him during an altercation or heated moment. There have also been incidents in Major League Baseball where a player has spit on an umpire in an angry tirade over a ruling.
One of the most famous spitting incidents in Major League Baseball history occurred on September 9th, 1996 when Roberto Alomar, second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, spit at home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck after John Hirschbeck called him out on a strike-three call while Alomar was at bat.
The incident gained national notoriety as the situation escalated in the days following. Alomar made a comment about the sick child of umpire John Hirschbeck and when he heard of the comment Hirschbeck entered the Orioles’ dugout looking for Alomar and had to be restrained by fellow umpires and officials.
The two eventually worked it out and cooler heads prevailed. Both consider each other friends to this day. But the situation drew attention to spitting on umpires and conduct in general between umpires and players.
Spitting in Golf
Golf is considered a game for “ladies and gentlemen”. Although golf does not have a specific rule that prohibits spitting, they expect conduct on the professional level to be respectful for the game. Spitting in profession golf is considered in most cases to be conduct unbecoming of a professional.
If spitting in golf is done out of a nervous habit, players are usually given the opportunity to correct the issue on their own without fine or corrective discipline.
Fines have been handed down to players in professional golf who seemingly spit on golf greens out of frustration.
Spitting in Football and Basketball
Spitting in football is common, much like baseball, but it is also not allowed to spit on other players or officials.
Spitting in basketball is an issue since the sport is played indoors. Although there is not an official rule, if a game official deems it a problem, he can levy warning and ejections as he or she sees fit.