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The Spitting Image, Ugh! : Baseball Is Drowning Under a Problem That Won't Be Swept Away

September 11, 1986|LESLIE STUART CARTER | Leslie Stuart Carter, a fan of televised baseball games, lives just a spit away from Los Angeles , in Brea.

It happened again the other evening when the California Angels were on TV. I had hurried home, showered and parked myself in front of the set in eager anticipation.

My wife, ever attentive, brought my dinner into the living room and put the tray on the coffee table. I thanked her profusely--or curtly--depending upon whose version you want to believe, and shoveled a generous portion of meat loaf onto my fork.

The national anthem's strains had just waned as I lifted the fork and watched Angel manager Gene Mauch eject a humongous spray onto the floor of his dugout. My meat loaf, just about the same color as Mauch's foam, lost a great deal of its appeal right there.

"May I just have some coffee?" I asked my wife. "I'm really not hungry anymore."

The TV cameraman, apparently impressed by Mauch's prowess as a dugout spitter, zeroed in again on the manager before the game's first batter had even stepped up to the plate.

Mauch, conscious that all eyes were upon him, expectorated with ill-concealed relish, looking down toward his feet admiringly at the muck.

He aimed again and, apparently satisfied that he hadn't lost the touch, gazed squinty-eyed out onto the field, all the while perspiring freely in the heat with his unflattering vinyl jacket buttoned to the neck. The jacket comes in handy for keeping windblown globules off Gene's uniform.

The object of Mauch's attention stood majestically out there on the mound, all 6 feet 7 inches of him. Mike Witt, the Angels' elongated right-hander, is at a distinct disadvantage in competing with shorter spitters such as his manager. Witter the spitter is frequently chagrined, when spitting from his full height, to see the precious saliva evaporate before it even reaches the mound. The stuff plays havoc with the rosin bag, too.

With Angel catcher Bob Boone, spitting is a ceremonial process. First, there is the lifting of the mask, followed by the furtive, almost apologetic spit, then a quick look at the ground in unadulterated admiration at the spit spot, replacement of the mask and down into the old crouch. This ritual goes on throughout the game whenever the opposition is batting. It's another appetite dampener.

When he is batting, Boone can be seen looking to third base coach Moose Stubing for a bunt or swing-away sign. Boonie then spits at Moose in acceptance, much the same way primitive man must have acknowledged his initial glimpse of the wheel.

Just about here, after watching countless baseball games on television and having to look away when a camera focuses on some of the legendary spitters, I begin a mental letter to Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth:

"Dear Peter: Let's ban spitting in televised baseball. Fine every one of 'em every time they spit. If that doesn't work, you can slap on a suspension."

This sorely needed legislation would affect a goodly percentage of today's players and managers, even the token spitters like Boston Red Sox Manager John McNamara. McNamara, one of baseball's most genteel characters, gets the big E if he doesn't dry up once and for all. One more little spittle--and McNamara's banned.

True, the ban would thwart many virtuoso spitters like Chuck (Jittery Spitter) Tanner, Atlanta Brave skipper and one of the vocal opponents of the plea for a spittoon in every dugout.

We put a stopwatch on Tanner on the Braves' bench, known as Spitty City, the other day and--eat your heart out, Reggie Jackson--Chuck spat every six seconds all the time he was on camera.

Oh, they were wimpy enough spits by any standard because Chuck clearly didn't even know he was doing it. Reflex actions, as it were. It had become so obviously pure habit that the poor guy couldn't help himself. But how in the world does he turn it off at home? Especially if he's got a green carpet in his living room!

We duly sympathize with the clubhouse attendants who have to bat cleanup in the mess after the captains and the kings have departed.

At least the Seattle Mariners' manager, Dick Williams, doesn't chew tobacco and deposit the obnoxious juices on the floor. No, Dick of the ferocious mustache and imperious air, favors sunflower seeds not, one suspects, out of deference to those long-suffering cleaners, but simply because shelling those tricky little seeds in the mouth gives one a faintly contemplative aura.

Now, the Dodgers, with Steve Yeager having departed to Seattle to see if he can out-spit Williams, are left without a designated spitter, a matter of some concern to all little boys growing up watching the Dodgers and hoping to emulate their sodden heroes. Where are you now, Dusty Baker? Dusty could have added a shower or two of his own even if only used as a pinch-spitter.

A question that continually baffles local baseball fans is: Why doesn't Tom Lasorda spit?

I mean, Tommy has all the aplomb, and then some, of the stereotype dugout expectorater. He's got the stomach and an impressive repertoire of expletives that make the accomplished lip readers in his audience cringe.

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