Baseball players aren’t the most hygienic individuals on the planet. After all, many of these athletes don’t mind sliding on dirt as long as they get to bases before the baseballs. You’ll also see many baseball players, particularly in the MLB, who spit. With that said, why do baseball players spit?
Baseball players spit for a variety of reasons, including to eliminate nervous tics, a replacement for tobacco, to continue a tradition, or because of the sunflower seed or gum in their mouths. The act isn’t the most hygienic practice in the sport, but it can help many baseball players with their game, albeit indirectly.
4 Reasons Why Baseball Players Spit
Years before the dangers of chewing tobacco became known, players used it to stimulate saliva on the field. When it came to the use of gum and sunflower seeds, the same effect was used. Still, many baseball players prefer chewing tobacco over sunflower seeds or gum despite the adverse effects. It’s because tobacco does a great job of relaxing the nerves.
Over time, other baseball players saw spitting as a habit, regardless of the item chewed. Chris Colabello, an MLB player who played for and with the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays, confirmed this tradition. He mentioned in an interview that if people saw players spit on TV, it was like the spectators were in the field, close to the athletes.
Tobacco Use Decline
Players started to use less and less chewing tobacco during the 1970s and 80s, with the use becoming even less popular in the next decades due to concerns about its negative effect on their health.
As part of the agreement between the MLB and the players’ union, players were asked not to use chewing tobacco in front of fans. This coalition didn’t want to encourage kids to start using the substance, especially at a young age.
In 2016, the league and the union agreed to a new collective agreement that banned new players from using smokeless tobacco. Today, 30 stadiums around the US ban the use of smokeless tobacco while inside the premises.
Reduce Nervous Tics
There’s a lot of tension in baseball. Whether it’s a hard time picking up a breaking ball or you feel like you’re in a hurry to get on base, it can get very frustrating. Chewing gum can help relieve that stress. But chewing gum for extended periods eliminates the flavor, which makes the experience more taxing than relaxing. Therefore, players spit out the gum, hence the act.
The American Institute of Stress even states in an article that chewing gum can help relieve pressure and tension during games. The post even mentions baseball directly:
Sunflower Seeds and Gum
Aside from tobacco, chewing gum and sunflower seeds are also part of baseball’s tradition. However, chewing these food options for extended periods reduces the enjoyable experience. Therefore, individuals, especially baseball players, decide to remove sunflower seeds or gum from their mouths through spitting.
Sunflower seeds, in particular, became increasingly common in baseball over the years. One reason why sunflower seeds are so popular is they’re easily packaged in small plastic bags. Being able to chew on sunflower seeds is also a healthy habit that can be maintained while a player is young. While sunflower seeds and chewing gum are both legal in the US, Major Leaguers can still get away with spitting.
Is Spitting in Baseball Banned?
At the time of writing, the MLB prohibits spitting while on the premises of baseball fields. It’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic that stricter safety measures are in place.
Many MLB clubs find this new rule to be disheartening. Many sports enthusiasts, especially professional baseball athletes, hold spitting in high regard. For example, in the batter’s box, players prepare by putting their hands on their bats. In the dugout, they prepare by spitting on the floor.
Still, some players tend to get away with it by doing simple gestures. One case on point is the following clip with Gaylord Perry in a classic MLB match:
Baseball players spit because of different reasons. These reasons can include helping the athletes relax or they’re honoring a time-honored tradition. However, the league suspends this tradition as of late because of coronavirus concerns.