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Will virus crisis clean up the action?

China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-14 09:26

Texas Rangers third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa spits during a Major League Baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Arlington, Texas, in September last year. The particular prevalence of spitting in baseball has been attributed to the sport's working-man roots. However, with the coronavirus pandemic heightening people's fears over hygiene, the sport has begun to question if the 'loogie' should be outlawed on the field of play and in dugouts. AP

With hygiene fears heightened during the pandemic, the days of athletes spitting during competition could be numbered

We come not to praise the 'loogie', but to bury it.

Already banned on sidewalks, outlawed indoors and pooh-poohed by polite society, that gob of saliva and Lord-knows-what-else is done mucking up sports. In the wake of the new coronavirus, teams are revoking the germ-landing privileges that turned dugouts, benches, boxing rings and even grass fields into potential biohazard sites.

No sharing towels, hats, bats, gloves or water bottles. Which could mean the era of spitting, slobbering, gleaking, glanding, hawking, hocking, venoming and expectorating is about to dry up. Or not.

"About time they did something," said Bobby Valentine, who played and managed in the major leagues for more than 40 years, including two stints in the Japanese Pacific League.

"I was over there for seven years and I could probably count on one hand how many times I saw a ballplayer spit. Heck," he added, "they don't even chew gum."

But a moment later, Valentine remembers a photo tucked in a drawer somewhere in his Stamford, Connecticut, home. It reminds him why the loogie will not disappear without a fight.

"It's a picture of me after a game from 30 years ago, back when I was managing the (Texas) Rangers and behind me there's this elongated view of the dugout. There must have been 200 of those green Gatorade cups and all this other … let's just say gunk, laying around.

"And I used to wonder even then," Valentine mused, "why guys couldn't clean up after themselves."

The answer may be as old-and as American-as the sport itself. Baseball began as a working man's game on sandlots and dusty diamonds, and more than a few players struggling with "cotton mouth" turned to chewing tobacco (and later gum and sunflower seeds) to work up some moisture. It became an institution in no time flat.

Pitchers figured out that loading a glob onto one side of the ball made it dip like crazy. Fielders pounded spit into the pockets of stiff leather gloves to soften them up and hitters rubbed it on their hands or lacquered up bat handles to improve their grips, at least temporarily. But it had psychological value, too.

Spitting helped some soothe jangling nerves, show contempt or toughness, or just mark their territory like dogs do. It was only a problem when an opponent got in the way of its gravity.

It isn't just baseball, of course. Rough-and-tumble sports like soccer and football embraced the practice at the beginnings of their games, too, and once grabbing a swig of water on the sidelines during a break became available, it practically elevated it into an art form. But don't expect any new masterpieces to flow soon.

With Germany's Bundesliga returning to play this weekend, Michel D'Hooghe, the chairman of FIFA's medical committee, has strongly advised against any soccer league restarting until the fall. But if they do, he wants even the most casual dribble on the pitch punished with a yellow card.

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