If there is one thing the Roberto Alomar fiasco proves, it's the
power of spit.
For lovability, Americans rank spit just below goiters and just
above France. Spit is part of our lives and yet it can repulse
like almost nothing else. Having someone spit in your face is
the equivalent of your wife leaving you for her Avon lady and
taking the TV remote with her.
Spit has a strange hold on baseball. Someone charges the mound
with a bat? We can deal with it. Albert Belle adjusts a
photographer's f-stop with a thrown ball? A tad out of line.
Bret Saberhagen squirts Clorox at reporters? A minor bleach of
etiquette. But a shower of spit hits an ump's mug? Somebody shut
down the playoffs!
"It is one thing to cuss a man," former umpire Dave Pallone said
recently. "Touching and hitting are bad enough. But spitting is
as vile a thing as you can do to a man on the field."
Very true, very true. And it happens to umps all the time. When
a manager rushes out to argue a call, it is tradition and, in
fact, expectorated, that he will get so close to the ump's face
and so animated in his objections that the ump will be sprayed
with a billion droplets of spit.
Since pride won't let umpires turn away, and since they will
never change a call, the say-it-and-spray-it stratagem is a
manager's sweetest revenge. (Older managers, in fact, usually
have a tried-and-true tirade filled with an ump's worst
nightmare--hard consonants: "P-iss p-oor!" they will yell,
spewing out the staccato ammo four inches from the ump's nose.
"That was p-retty p-iss p-oor, p-al! P-erhaps I oughta p-unch a
f-at, f-reakin' hole in that f-reakin' mask, p-ork p-ie!")
Unlike almost any other game Americans play, baseball is up to
its sanitary hose in human saliva. It's tough to spit through a
mouth guard and a face mask in football, there's no place to
spit in basketball, and spitting on a golf course will get you
kicked out of the Couples Spring Four-Ball. But a ballpark is
just a very large spittoon. Players, umps, batboys, ball girls,
sportswriters, fans and even an occasional national anthem
singer (thank you, Roseanne) spit about as often as the field of
a camel race. A survey done somewhere proved that without
spitting and groinal hand applications major league games would
last 17 minutes.
Have you ever been in a dugout after a game? It is a revolting
pool of tobacco juice, hanging spittle, sunflower-seed globules
and an assortment of chew wads. After every game, some poor
batboy making $1.12 per hour must hose down this giant science
project and then take a bottle of blue disinfectant, coat the
floor with it and, if he's smart, shower in it.
Not that his efforts matter. The next day the drool will pool up
again. Former major league manager Don Zimmer was famous for
informal pregame press conferences in which, between
pronouncements, he would loose a river of tobacco juice at the
feet of a reporter he didn't like, then say, "Jeez, I'm sorry.
Did that get your shoe?"
On the Sliding Scale of Spit Atrocities (with rankings based on
sheer volume of saliva), Alomar's deed was barely past the
halfway point. You don't know the Sliding Scale of Spit
Atrocities? Here it is, in ascending order of offensiveness (and
suitable for laminating!):
1) A Lou Holtz press conference.
2) Status Spitting. My friends and I did this on the playground
in the seventh grade to be cool. Done with great disdain, it
involved spitting every 3.7 seconds for no reason.
3) Defensive Spitting. The best way to keep your sister from
taking a sip of your Dr. Pepper.
4) The Lou Costello. This is a fine, wide spray with very little
physical effect, personified by the famous face-drenching
routine of the comedy team Abbott and Costello.
5) The Pollenex Shower Massage. A spontaneous assault in which
the spitter unloads whatever moisture happens to be in his
mouth. Alomar's misting of umpire John Hirschbeck fits here.
7) Lung parts.
Still, the Alomar incident made for the best spitting story
since 1991, when Charles Barkley tried to spit on an unruly fan
and hit a little girl by mistake. Later, Barkley issued perhaps
the only errant-spit explanation in sports history: "I was
tired, and because of that the spit in my mouth was foamy.
That's why it sprayed."
So next time, Roberto, kick the ump's socks full of dirt. Give
him a Pearle Vision Center gift certificate. Tell him, "Yeah,
your mama's a hooker, but at least she can work the corners."
But never, ever, spit in an umpire's face. You'll never talk
your way out of it. Besides, the foam defense has already been
B/W PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS Abbott (left) and Costello's spitting bit left 'em laughing. [Bud Abbott and Lou Costello]