If you’re a fan of MLB, you’ve probably noticed baseball players spitting during a game. It’s not just out of habit—there are actually a few reasons behind this age-old tradition of the sport.
So why do baseball players spit so much? Primarily, baseball players use saliva to dampen their gloves and make them tackier. Others spit to expel gum, sunflower seeds, or excess saliva. Some also do it to relieve stress or kill boredom when the innings are long.
How Saliva Is Used in Baseball?
The white stuff baseball players spit out is plain saliva.
- Pitchers spit or lick their fingers to secure their grip on the ball.
- Batters spit in their hands or on the bat to improve their chances of making a successful hit.
- Defense players spit to moisten their gloves for a good catch.
The practice of spitting in baseball goes way back to the 19th century, when players chewed tobacco to keep their mouths moist. Tobacco is known to stimulate saliva production, which helps players stay hydrated despite the draining impact of lengthy games, infield dirt, and the hot sun.
Baseball players later discovered that saliva was a great way to keep their gloves moist and taut when they turned dusty and slippery on the field. So it wasn’t unusual to see baseball players chew tobacco, and then spit inconspicuously on their gloves.
It wasn’t until health issues regarding tobacco surfaced in the medical field that the sport saw a sharp decline in tobacco chewing. Coaches and trainers also noticed its negative effects, often attributing player fatigue and performance slumps to nicotine use.
In 2011, professional players and the MLB signed an agreement not to chew tobacco in front of their fans. The sight of MLB players dipping gave the negative implication that chewing tobacco was fine simply because the pros were doing it.
Tobacco chewing was eventually banned in Major League Baseball for first-time players in 2016. Some baseball greats known to have lost their lives to tobacco-related cancers are Babe Ruth, Bill Tuttle, and Tony Gwynn.
Other Reasons Why Baseball Players Chew and Spit
It’s not just about the tobacco—chewing and spitting in baseball remain rampant for purposes beyond just tradition. Reddit even has lengthy discussion threads on this topic from both authorities and fans in the baseball community.
Here are a few more reasons why baseball players spit:
- Saliva thickens with physical activity due to the increased amount of protein secreted. This makes saliva harder to swallow, so players spew it out.
- Airborne dirt and grass from dives and slides can get in the mouth.
- Long plays can get boring or distracting, so players chew on something to keep themselves focused and occupied.
- Chewing also helps reduce anxiety and stress during playoffs which, as most professional players describe, can be extremely painful.
- Spitting is regarded as contemptuous behavior which can perturb the opponent.
- Spitting may be a ritual to bring good luck or break the jinx of a bad play.
Even with the ban on tobacco chewing, players still practice the time-honored tradition of spitting during a baseball game. Nowadays, baseball players mostly chew gum or eat sunflower seeds before spitting.
Gum and Sunflower Seeds as Chewing Alternatives
Baseball dugouts these days are strewn with discarded gum and sunflower seeds instead of tobacco spit.
They’ve become the most popular alternatives that baseball players chew on to fuel the habit in a healthier way.
- Sunflower seeds come in small plastic pouches that are easy to roll up and stuff into the back pockets of baseball uniforms.
The bags are also resealable, giving players easy access when they want to pop a handful into their mouths.
- Gum is also a top favorite in helping players stay engaged, which can be quite difficult if one is just sitting or standing around throughout a three-hour game.
Sunflower seeds and gum are safer alternatives, with no withdrawals or long-term ill effects on health like smokeless tobacco has. Over time, players learned they were not looking for the physical effects of nicotine but just needed something to keep their minds busy.
Chewing and spitting sunflower seeds and gum are also more acceptable for young players. The motivation behind tobacco restrictions was to prevent little leaguers from taking up the unhealthy themselves.
The Total Ban on Spitting Due to Covid-19
Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus have entirely changed the way games are played in the sporting world. Baseball hasn’t been exempt from this, with a total ban imposed on spitting in addition to standard protocols like testing and social distancing.
Specifically, new game rules prohibit spitting, “including but not limited to saliva, sunflower seeds or peanut shells, or tobacco.” Pitchers are also prevented from licking their fingers. Still, they are allowed to have a wet towel or rag for moisturizing purposes.
Chewing gum is still allowed, as long as players don’t spit it on the ground.
How Players Feel About the Saliva Ban
Spitting is a ritual deeply rooted in baseball. Players have different reactions to the saliva ban, depending on their positions.
Because they bear the brunt of all the spewing in the diamond, most catchers think of the ban as a welcome thing.
Pitchers, on the other hand, differ in sentiment, claiming there’s nothing like saliva to moisten the fingers before a good pitch.
Opinions seem to be divided amongst basemen and outfielders. Some ask what more they can do to help stop the spread of the virus, while others think the ban on spitting is outright unthinkable.
Whatever their biases are regarding the prohibition on spitting, MLB players just have to follow the rules or face sanctions until the coronavirus becomes a thing of the past.
Spitting is a long-established practice in baseball that has a few good reasons besides just being a nasty habit. People become less opinionated once they have clear answers to the question, “Why do baseball players spit so much?”
It looks like spitting in baseball is here to stay. The current ban might be temporary and could be lifted once the dust settles. Share our article with anyone you know who still balks at the sight of baseball players spitting on the field during a game.
A powerful swing and the ball is flying across the field, just one hit, and we might never forget the thrill it brings. I do not know about you, but I never do. Every baseball game is the chance to compete with others and cooperate with your teammate. It is among my biggest passions.