Baseball recently released a thorough health and safety protocol to help protect its players during the 2020 MLB Season. But there’s one new rule that will certainly be tough to follow.
From Little League to the MLB, yes it’s perhaps the act of spitting that seems to carry on the most. According to Alex Watt from Mental Floss, the act of chewing/spitting sunflower seeds while playing baseball originates all the way back to the 1950s when Hall of Famers Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial were occasionally seen with a mouthful of seeds.
Although, it’s widely believed that Reggie Jackson popularized sunflower seeds in baseball during the 1968 season, and since then it has been a staple in baseball, as well as a global market valued at over $23 billion as recent as 2017. By 2025 that number is expected to surpass $30 billion. Sunflower seeds is big business!
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Of course smokeless tobacco goes back beyond the 50s, as some believe it was common even during the creation of the sport in the mid to late-1800s. You could say tobacco was just as part of the game as the glove and ball, and still to this day infielders will use their dip-filled saliva to help moisten their leather. Heck, back in the day, pitchers would use the juice from their chew to help prepare the infamous, but now extinct, spitball — a pitch that was widely used in the majors until it was banned in 1920.
By 1999, a study found that at least 6.5% of all American males used smokeless tobacco, and despite professional baseball’s attempt to curtail the use of it since then, the global smokeless tobacco market today is valued at almost $14 billion.
But now, at least for the 2020 season (and maybe even beyond for all we know), baseball players are being told to stop chewing sunflower seeds and smokeless tobacco. In fact, spitting altogether will be banned going forward.
Earlier this week MLB released its health and safety protocol, which contains an almost infinite list of safety measures the league intends to incorporate in a potential shortened 2020 season. The memo is 67 pages overall, but here are a few notable rules, pulled from Yahoo Sports:
- No fist bumps, high fives or hugs.
- No exchanging of lineup cards prior to the game.
- No showering at the ballpark.
- No eating in restaurants on the road.
- No touching the face when giving signs.
- No mascots.
- No bat boys or girls.
- No licking your fingers.
- Players not in the game must sit in the stands, apart from each other.
- No spitting.
Of those listed above, save for maybe touching the face, the inability to spit will be the biggest adjustment forced upon players this season. And though many fans may think it’s a small thing to ask, for former ballplayers it’s like taking away a piece of the game. Just check out what former Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk told NBC Sports on Tuesday:
"“Hell, no. I couldn’t do it. Spitting is part of the game. You watch (the movie) A League of Their Own. They practiced spitting. You watch Major League. They spit in unison. It’s natural to all of us. Take a pitch, spit. Rub up a ball with spit. Spit in your glove. It’s what ballplayers do. I don’t know how you can concentrate totally on the game if in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘Don’t spit. Don’t spit.’ “"
Think about it. As you’re sitting at home on your couch watching a game on TV, how many times does the broadcast cut to an infielder waiting for the pitch just as he’s spitting a mouthful of seeds or tobacco? Think about all the times there’s a quick cut to the manager, and in the background there’s four or five logs of dip sitting on the bench in the dugout, or a family-size box of seeds (a log is a pack of five smokeless tobacco cans).
In fact, oftentimes the manager himself has a big chaw pushing through his cheek.
The safety protocol isn’t necessarily a done deal yet. And over the last few days there have even been reports that players are hoping for some tweaks to the list of rules. I imagine there will be several protocols that will be contested by the players, though thus far it appears they’re more concerned with being allowed to utilize various recovery equipment (hydrotherapy pools, cryotherapy chambers… etc).
Perhaps the players aren’t too concerned with the no-spitting rule. And maybe that’s a good thing, given spitting is probably the worst thing players could do in the middle of a virus pandemic. But whether they realize it or not, playing the game without spitting is going to be tough. Just watch any old game and see for yourself.