Jewish World Review May 24, 2002 /13 Sivan, 5762

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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To clean up America's game: A (soggy) ground rule | For many years now, a philosophical debate has raged over whether baseball or football is truly America's National Pastime. In recent years, football seems to have won the honors, if only because it exemplifies the five salient characteristics of modern American civilization:

Incomprehensible regulations.

Meaningless statistics.

Mass violence.

Committee meetings.

And hyper-enthusiastic females who may or may not really care.

But baseball possesses some attributes of its own that reflect the paradoxes and oddities characteristic of life in post- modern America. It's a country game played in cities; a daytime game played at night; the only game where the defense has the ball; and just about the only game that can, conceivably, go on forever (and sometimes seems to).

That's not to mention the epistemological differences between the various philosophies of umpiring.

The premodern umpire says, "I call 'em as they are."

The modern umpire says, "I call 'em as I see 'em."

The postmodern umpire says, "They don't exist until I call 'em."

Now, as two traditionalists who can remember an era when football was basically what you watched between baseball seasons, we'd prefer to believe that baseball retains its primacy. However, as physicians, we note with alarm one profound aspect of the game that seems to be intensifying with each passing season.


There are dozens of sports, but when it comes to expectoration no one -- no one -- does it better than baseball. At any given moment, all nine players on defense are watering the grass (or Astroturf) and dirt. The batter is spitting and so is the guy on deck. Add to that the players and coaches on the bench -- which is most of the team -- and you have a veritable deluge. These people spend more time on expectoration than deliberation, excitation, or even replication.

So why do we care? Well, the mouth just happens to be one of the dirtiest places in the whole human body. The bacteria- and virus-laden fluid it produces, continually and assiduously disseminated by the slobbering boys of summer, seeps into the groundwater and into ponds, rivers, and lakes. That's bad enough, without considering the additives that are typical -- chewing-tobacco, snuff, and, well, let's not pursue that. Players travel from state to state daily, and even from country to country. Conceivably, a baseball-induced infectious epidemic could infect the whole world in days. These guys should bathe their shoes at the same time they brush their teeth.

Now, there is no law against spitting in sports. But can you imagine it in other sports? Try to envision quarterback Curt Warner -- whilst running around the backfield, escaping from blitzing defensive ends and linebackers, and looking for wide receiver Isaac Bruce -- suddenly stopping to water the turf. In basketball, try to picture Kobe, in midflight for a triple-spin reverse slam dunk, putting a big one on the backboard. Can you see Tiger Woods now, or Jack Nicklaus in the past, practicing a little oral drainage in the middle of a putt?

Imagine hockey player Paul Karya, of the Mighty Ducks, using the ice for a spittoon every time he cranked a pass or shot on goal. Imagine Sarah Hughes, Michelle Kwan, or cutesy Sasha Cohen vaporizing the air and clouding the arena every time she did a Lutz, Salkow, or triple loop. Or how about during the final spin at 1000 rpm? Er, on second thought, let's not imagine that. In any case, we've made our point. And now we arrive at the crux of the biscuit, which is to say, the question: Why do baseball players spit so much?

One possible answer: They're bored. After all, even the starters spend most of each game doing nothing, either standing around on the field or sitting on the bench.

Another possible answer: They're frustrated. What other game considers you an All-Star when you succeed at what you're doing three times out of ten? How many efforts does it take for the pitcher (who is, by the bye, forbidden to throw spit balls) to get anybody out?

So what to do to discourage players from this vile habit? Fine them? Yank their commercial endorsements? Force them to watch videos of themselves doing it? Not necessary. To curtail the epidemic, just place a spittoon by every position and base ...

and require the losers to clean them.

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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., writes on medical, legal, disability and mental health reform. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., of Aberdeen, Wash., is president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists who write numerous commentaries and articles for newspapers, newsletters, magazines and journals nationally and internationally. Comment by clicking here.


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