Phlegm of Dreams: Those Salivatin’, Expectoratin Boys of Summer

By Mike Walsh, Published in the Philadelphia Weekly in 1998

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If there’s one thing Joe Paul of Sun City, Arizona, can’t stand, it’s spitting. “It’s totally disgusting,” says Joe.

Spitting seems to be an accepted part of big league baseball. So in March, with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks set to open their first season in nearby Phoenix, Joe decided to follow up on his pet peeve. He went to the Phoenix Law Library and found a statute on the books prohibiting spitting in public buildings. This includes Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks play.

Joe mailed a copy of the law to the team before the season started, but it did no good. On opening day, the Diamondbacks and their opponent, the Florida Marlins, engaged in a veritable saliva-sling fest. Joe videotaped the game and, after careful review, identified “52 spits.” The most “aggressive, prolific spitter” was manager Buck Showalter, seen spitting 10 times.

“Those are just the ones caught on camera,” Joe’s quick to point out. No one knows how many times the players and coaches spit off-camera during the game. Realistically, there’s probably a couple hundred spits per major league baseball game. That’s a lot of sputum.

Joe sent the tape and a written complaint to the Phoenix health department. He was confident that spitting would soon be banned from Bank One Ballpark. He even entertained visions of eradicating the slippery, germ-infested menace from the game entirely. But the health department replied with a jumble of legalese arguing that a baseball “field” can’t be considered part of a public building.

Joe laughs at such rationale and points out that the videotape shows players and coaches spitting repeatedly in the dugout as well as on the field. So he took his case to the Arizona state ombudsman, accusing the Phoenix health department of obstructing justice, and an investigation is now underway.

“They don’t have a leg to stand on,” Joe says of the health department. “I would love for them to be stupid enough to go to court on this. It’s their own law, and they won’t enforce it.”

There is more spitting in today’s game, according to Joe. “Baseball used to be the all-American sport. Now it’s the all-American disgrace, as far as I’m concerned.” And maybe he’s right. I can’t recall greats like Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Jim Bunning, or Steve Carlton ever soiling the diamond with spittle.

Joe claims that television condones spitting. “The television cameras make it part of the show by zeroing in on somebody chewing because they know he’s about to spit.”

Other pro athletes seem to compete without spitting. You’ll see virtually no spitting in pro tennis, golf, swimming, horse racing, track and field, or basketball. You will notice the occasional airborne salivate during hockey and football games, but the boys of summer are champs in this regard. The modern baseball player is a spitting machine.

Spitting has a long tradition in baseball because of the widespread use of chewing tobacco and snuff. For decades, their use has been a rite of passage in pro ball, and by the time a player reaches the majors, he has years of chewing and spitting experience.

If you’re a Phillies fan, you know that the home team does its share of spitting. In fact, the ’93 Phillies were without peer when it came to on-field saliva spewing. For those lovable misfits, brown tobacco juice on their stubby chins and the fronts of their uniforms was a badge of honor. Dykstra, Daulton, Kruk, Schilling, Mitch Williams, and the rest of Macho Row had their lower lips packed with snuff, and they weren’t shy about hawking slaver for the camera. Lord knows what the grounds crew had to go through after a nine-inning Macho Row spit-a-thon on the Vet’s Astroturf. Industrial strength disinfectants were no doubt involved.

But what are spitting and chewing if not nervous habits? With the money these guys make, can’t we expect a little more control over their jaws and bodily fluids? And aren’t nervous habits like spitting and chewing a sign of weakness? Don’t they give the opposition a psychological edge?

Maybe that’s been the Phillies’ problem all these years. Come to think of it, the Atlanta Braves have had generally non-spitting teams for much of the ’90s, and they’re in the World Series every other year. The Phillies, on the other hand, have had exactly one winning season in the ’90s. Go figure.

Joe advises people who are offended by spitting to research their local laws for ordinances that can be used to fight the filthy habit. So I did a little research, and guess what I found? Here’s Title 10, Section 601 of Philadelphia’s legal code:

No person shall spit on the sidewalks, streets, subways, concourses, floors, or passageways of public buildings or in any other place frequented by the public.

After calls to the DA, the mayor’s office, the health department, the 1st district police station (which includes the Vet), and the Phillies security office, I found no one who was even aware of the law, much less willing to enforce it. So it will take people like Joe Paul, who have weak stomachs and the persistence to fight tests cases, to wipe the saliva from the field of dreams.

The boys of summer are hereby put on notice. Your days of unfettered expectoration are numbered!


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