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I remember when I was a young kid trying out with different clubs," says former major league Pitcher Dick Hall. "It was something seeing real major-leaguers. Clint Hartung really impressed me. He'd been a big-bonus rookie about a year or two before and he could spit all the way across the Giants' dressing room. A big, beautiful shot. He might have been the best distance chewer I ever saw. But Pittsburgh had some good chewers, too. Both O'Brien brothers chewed. They liked to spit on each other."
Oh, yes. There is fielding, running, throwing, hitting, hitting with power. And then there is chewing. People don't always appreciate the talent involved in chewing. Or the teamwork.
They say that Rocky Bridges was managing from the third-base coaching box at El Paso when one of his players, Ethan Blackaby, hit a home run. As Blackaby rounded third, Bridges, extending a congratulatory shake, pressed a wad of wet tobacco into his hand.
Without a sign of emotion, Blackaby continued down the line and across home plate, where he was greeted by the next hitter, Tom Egan. Blackaby passed on to the unsuspecting Egan the still dripping wad.
You've got to be ready in baseball. Egan nearly fainted.
Chewing in some form is practiced in conjunction with most sports activities—maybe all of them, aside from, oh, swimming, gymnastics, chess. (In fact, Red Sox Pitcher Jim Willoughby chews tobacco while playing chess. But chess is not his primary game.)
Jockey Steve Cauthen is into oral snuff, though not while riding. College hockey players sometimes spit tobacco on bothersome fans, which may be why the rink is surrounded by a plastic shield. Campy Russell in basketball and Tony Jacklin in golf chomp gum fiercely while playing.
Snuff is very big in football lately. Bert Jones (who goes into press conferences with a little cup to spit in), the Cowboys' team physicians (who are forever spilling their cups on airplanes), Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath and Fran Tarkenton all do snuff, and in television commercials Walt Garrison has explained to the public how snuff is done: "You don't light it up. You just take a pinch and put ii in between your lip and gum. And it sure feels relaxing in there." (What Garrison doesn't tell the viewers is that on his first date with his wife Pam he overturned on her the contents of the spittoon he keeps in his car.)
After New England beat the Steelers early last season, Patriot Guard John Hannah said. "This is like having the best chew of tobacco in the world in your mouth and never wanting to spit it out." Former Cowboys Lee Roy Jordan and Bob Lilly and former Colt Billy Ray Smith are said to have gone out and banged into people in regular-season games not only with fire in their eyes but tobacco in their mouths. And either never swallowed it, or didn't notice. Smith, a defensive tackle, used tobacco tactically, splattering the ball liberally on obvious passing downs.
Jordan, Lilly and Smith belong in the Chewers Hall of Fame. And yet they would have to be consigned to lower niches than Bridges, or Nellie Fox, the old second baseman, or several other of the greatest chewers in the history of the most ruminative sport, the most he-speckled sport, the premier chewing sport: baseball.