Casey At the Splat

spitting tooMuch will be written about baseball for the rest of this season, as it is every season. The most remarkable thing about the sport, this year as every year, however, is not the number of errors that the Mets will make, the number of people who attend Yankee games or even the number and street names of steroids that one player or another may or may not have ingested. Rather, what will be truly remarkable will be the prodigious amount of spitting that will take place on local, network and cable TV. In what other activity, in this media-conscious age, would a group of multi-millionaires in a dubious state of grace with their constituency spit every time the cameras focus millions of eyes upon them on large screen, high resolution TV? Even Donald Trump avoided spitting during the presidential debates.

Yet every time we catch a shot of the savvy Joe Girardi looking like some cherubic Einstein, he lets go an accomplished gob onto the dugout floor. While strategic consequences only slightly less complicated than those that explain the Hapsburg dynasty are discussed every time Terry Collins so much as shifts weight on the bench, Collins himself fuels his mental gyrations with years of accumulated spittle. And even while their pitching this year will be described in terms of an artistry equivalent to that of the Breughel family, the pitching staff of the New York Mets will be emitting streams of saliva rivaling the viscosity of oil paint.

The art of spitting, the most quintessential aspect of the game, has been largely ignored by the media: no footage of tobacco-laden goo appears in a Ken Burns documentary; nary a spittoon can be found in the Hall of Fame. Writers persist in seeing baseball as a metaphor for literature and life rather than what it is: an occasion to get rid of unwanted phlegm. But then failure to mention spitting is an old literary lacuna. Even Homer, for all the carnage and souls flying out of peoples’ bodies in The Iliad, refrained from describing the damp exhalations of Achilles, that first and greatest of all sulking free agents.

Baseball misses a good thing here. Everything else about the game is recorded, enumerated, analyzed and argued over in the minutest detail. So why not revel in the dissection of this, its most ubiquitous, feature? Baseball being baseball and not Miss Manners, we should be looking for soft spots in teams’ splatting orders and calculating their pitching staffs’ ERAs (Expectorant Runoff Averages). High salaries should attend those who consistently produce high RBI’s, or Rheum between Innings, while pesky middle infielders would earn their keep with deftly executed suicide wheezes.

When the day finally comes that Bartolo Colon is unable to pick up a ball, why not ensure his place on the roster as Designated Spitter? In this capacity he could render services at least as valuable as those such as obsessive rocking back and forth or scratching of their private parts performed by coaches during games. Moreover, since baseball seems to be becoming as inbred as Egyptian Dynasties, with virtually every young prospect related to one or more other present or former players, it would be a convenient way for an elder to settle comfortably into his paterfamilias role, keeping track of the sons, grandsons, nephews, etc., destined someday to become — dare I say it? — his spitting image.
Think of the graying Alomar brothers, standing along opposing first base lines at some future Opening Day and each unleashing a winter’s worth of catarrh as the last notes of “The Star Spangled Banner” are swallowed up in fan noise. Several little Stottlemeyers and Boones, Cal Ripkens III through V, and Moise Alou’s nephew twice removed sprint onto the field which they mark as their own with youthful, bubble-gum tinted secretions. Then the hulking ump ejects some bothersome sputum from his mouth with the same bravado used to eject an obstreperous manager. Ironically dusting off home plate with a miniature whisk broom, he spits yet again and announces the start of another season of baseball with the prophetic words “Splatter Up!”

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