The Spitting Image

I'M ABOUT to reveal why most women don't watch as much baseball as men do. It's not because we don't understand the basic flow of the game and the rules that govern it; we certainly do: The Pitcher stands alone on the "mound," from where he is repeatedly insulted by the Catcher, who, emboldened behind the anonymity of a "mask," sends very nasty messages by way of hand signals flashing rudely out of his "groin." Meanwhile the Batter, who is chosen from a "lineup," braces for the moment when the Pitcher can no longer restrain himself from throwing a "fast ball" directly at the Catcher's hand signals. The Batter must try to hit the ball as far as the "stands." Only then may he run around the "bases," symbolically containing the Pitcher's rage inside of a "home run." Then the Manager walks to the mound and escorts the Pitcher to the "dugout," where other team members "spank" him until he sits down.

And it's not because we resent the unresponsiveness of our male partners as their eyes glaze over in extra innings. ("Honey?" "Huh?" "Honey, are you listening?" "Uh-huh." "Do I have your blessing to 'get physical' with my personal trainer, Butch, tonight?" "Huh." "Sign here, please." "Uh-huh.")

No, the reason we don't watch that much baseball is because almost every player spits beaucoup times a minute. Television close-ups, therefore, are guaranteed to be spit-inclusive. To women, who may be viewing 52-inch, high-resolution color screens—purchased in lieu of food by their mates—this experience is equivalent to an actual guy in her living room spitting every few seconds on her actual carpet.

Baseball-player Man, we really have to hand it to him, appears not the least self-conscious over his resemblance to one of those revolting mountain boys in the otherwise delightful musical comedy Deliverance. ("Squeal like a pig! fa, la, la . . .") His habit of kicking dirt around, carrying a club, and scratching himself adds nicely to the effect. In this oblivious vein, Baseball-player Man has no objection whatsoever to those close-up shots of his seed-stuffed face, which looks like ours do in the dentist's chair with 53 plugs of cotton wadded firmly into our cheeks. I must tell you that if a major network walked into my dentist's office and asked me if I minded being filmed there and then for national broadcast, I would without hesitation reply, "Aanh-oh-oo-ee-annh!!" Although, to be fair, if I were also offered a $27 million contract and endless offers of commitment-free rendezvous with unbearably attractive men, I might amend that answer to, "Unh—Hawh!" But that's just me.

For a woman, the sight of Baseball-player Man's cheek stuffed with seed-and-spit compote is like being witness to the prelude of a force of nature. Not exactly forces like the seasons changing or the tides waxing and waning. More like the force of my neighbor's dachshund "Adolf" depositing a fresh doodle at the foot of the same tree each morning. Yes, as surely as the doodles must drop, Baseball-player Man will decide he doesn't want it all in his cheek anymore.

And this state of affairs is actually an improvement. Baseball owners, responding chivalrously to women's distress, years ago ordered players to replace their beloved chewing tobacco with sunflower seeds. And we appreciate it, we really do. Any time you can make spitting less brown we feel that civilization is getting a nudge in the right direction. Of course, you could give civilization a detailed road map with a roll of quarters for the tolls. How? Start by requiring Baseball-player Man, no matter what "position" he plays, to wear a mask, like his team member the Catcher, and like Football-player Man, who is much more rarely spotted spitting. Football-player Man has learned, and something tells me he's learned the hard way, that spitting through a mask is tougher than it looks.