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Baseball's Spitting Image
Rick Reilly
October 14, 1996
The national pastime was all wet long before Roberto Alomar let fly
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October 14, 1996

Baseball's Spitting Image

The national pastime was all wet long before Roberto Alomar let fly

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If there is one thing the Roberto Alomar fiasco proves, it's the power of spit.

For lovability, Americans rank spit just below goiters and just above France. Spit is part of our lives and yet it can repulse like almost nothing else. Having someone spit in your face is the equivalent of your wife leaving you for her Avon lady and taking the TV remote with her.

Spit has a strange hold on baseball. Someone charges the mound with a bat? We can deal with it. Albert Belle adjusts a photographer's f-stop with a thrown ball? A tad out of line. Bret Saberhagen squirts Clorox at reporters? A minor bleach of etiquette. But a shower of spit hits an ump's mug? Somebody shut down the playoffs!

"It is one thing to cuss a man," former umpire Dave Pallone said recently. "Touching and hitting are bad enough. But spitting is as vile a thing as you can do to a man on the field."

Very true, very true. And it happens to umps all the time. When a manager rushes out to argue a call, it is tradition and, in fact, expectorated, that he will get so close to the ump's face and so animated in his objections that the ump will be sprayed with a billion droplets of spit.

Since pride won't let umpires turn away, and since they will never change a call, the say-it-and-spray-it stratagem is a manager's sweetest revenge. (Older managers, in fact, usually have a tried-and-true tirade filled with an ump's worst nightmare—hard consonants: "P-iss p-oor!" they will yell, spewing out the staccato ammo four inches from the ump's nose. "That was p-retty p-iss p-oor, p-al! P-erhaps I oughta p-unch a f-at, f-reakin' hole in that f-reakin' mask, p-ork p-ie!")

Unlike almost any other game Americans play, baseball is up to its sanitary hose in human saliva. It's tough to spit through a mouth guard and a face mask in football, there's no place to spit in basketball, and spitting on a golf course will get you kicked out of the Couples Spring Four-Ball. But a ballpark is just a very large spittoon. Players, umps, batboys, ball girls, sportswriters, fans and even an occasional national anthem singer (thank you, Roseanne) spit about as often as the field of a camel race. A survey done somewhere proved that without spitting and groinal hand applications major league games would last 17 minutes.

Have you ever been in a dugout after a game? It is a revolting pool of tobacco juice, hanging spittle, sunflower-seed globules and an assortment of chew wads. After every game, some poor batboy making $1.12 per hour must hose down this giant science project and then take a bottle of blue disinfectant, coat the floor with it and, if he's smart, shower in it.

Not that his efforts matter. The next day the drool will pool up again. Former major league manager Don Zimmer was famous for informal pregame press conferences in which, between pronouncements, he would loose a river of tobacco juice at the feet of a reporter he didn't like, then say, "Jeez, I'm sorry. Did that get your shoe?"

On the Sliding Scale of Spit Atrocities (with rankings based on sheer volume of saliva), Alomar's deed was barely past the halfway point. You don't know the Sliding Scale of Spit Atrocities? Here it is, in ascending order of offensiveness (and suitable for laminating!):

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