If Major League Baseball gets its way, a habit most fans find disgusting will be banned from games in 2020.
Of course, we’re talking about spitting.
However, as San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler explained this week, spitting has become so ingrained in baseball’s culture that breaking the habit will be a “tremendous challenge” for the players and for himself personally.
He’s definitely not wrong.
If you’ve watched even one baseball game, you know spitting is as much a part of the game as the bats, gloves and even the baseball itself. You won’t go more than a handful of pitches without seeing someone spit something somewhere, whether it be sunflower seeds or smokeless tobacco juice.
It’s not a new trend. It’s been around the game for decades. Centuries even. Chewing tobacco in baseball has been traced back to the 1800s, and it’s been spit on the field just as long.
“When you play the game, you have to have something to entertain you, otherwise your brain goes crazy,” former Minnesota Twins outfielder Tony Oliva once said of players chewing and spitting during games. Oliva himself didn’t partake, but he watched it happen all around him.
Those actions have been witnessed and copied for generations. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has given the league a valid reason to push for its removal from the game.
Why MLB wants to ban spitting
According to documents obtained by The Athletic, the league’s proposal for the 2020 season includes a provision that bans players, coaches and other personnel from spitting, using smokeless tobacco and chewing sunflower seeds in restricted areas.
It’s a safety issue as opposed to a cosmetic issue. Saliva is one of the many known ways for individuals to spread COVID-19. It’s a big reason why social distancing protocols have been put in place. The suggested distance is six feet, but spitting into the air can spread the virus well beyond that distance.
Though baseball players are generally more spread out on the field than in other sports, there’s a lot of close contact as well. Banning spitting lowers the risks of players who might not know they are infected from spreading the virus.
Why banning spitting will be a ‘tremendous challenge’
According to Kapler, spitting will be a difficult habit to break because it goes hand-in-hand with many of his gameday rituals.
“When the game begins, I start with some coffee, it’s part of my routine,” Kapler said on “Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks” on Monday. “I quickly transition to gum — lots of gum, not just a couple pieces, a lot of gum. I don’t like the sweetness, but I like the size of the gum. My normal behavior is I spit a lot of the gum juice out.
“… From there I transition to seeds. Sunflower seeds in the middle of the game. As much as you can — you’re just spitting the seeds on the ground. I’m not alone. So many players, staff have routines like the one I just described. Different, but similar. They’re all going to have to stop those routines. That is going to be a tremendous challenge.”
It’s often said that baseball players and coaches are creatures of habit. Kapler confirms here that the expression applies to him and many people he’s associated with.
However, Kapler also acknowledged it’s a challenge he will embrace because there might be no other choice.
“When you’ve been doing it your whole life, it’s like breaking any habit. It’s going to be hard when things get stressful not to default to the habit. But I can tell you this: Everybody’s going to be committed to doing it because it’s so worth it. The trade-off between giving up that habit and getting to play baseball, we’ll play baseball all day long.”
Assuming there is a 2020 season, the theme of it will be sacrifice. That includes time away from loved ones during a pandemic. Eventually, the owners and players will have to agree on how much money each side is willing to sacrifice. In this instance, it even applies to sacrificing a habit that most know isn’t appealing, but rely on in some small way to help ease their mind.
It won’t be easy. For some, it won’t be a fun process. But it will be necessary to make baseball safer.
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