CAMDEN – Sports spitting received little notice until 1920, when professional baseball outlawed the spitball. But that controversy soon dried up, at least on the sports pages, if not on the gloves of certain pitchers and in the dugout.

Then on Aug. 7, 1956, left fielder Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox brought sports sputum out of the dugout and onto the field beyond the pitcher’s mound.

That night, during the 11th inning of a game against the hated New York Yankees, Boston fans unmercifully booed the rail-thin Williams, until then fondly called “The Splendid Splinter,” when he mishandled a fly ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle.

In response, Williams spat dramatically toward the stands, his third such spitting incident in three weeks, but the first given any sustained attention in the press. From that point on, Williams was variously, and invariably, known as “The Splendid Spitter.”

As TV began more and more to invade the former privacy of the baseball dugout, fans were able to see at long last just how pervasive the sport’s obsession with projecting saliva, pure or diluted, had become.

Game telecasts began to provide viewers with an almost endless parade of spitting images of men letting loose on the dugout floor, the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box. It became clear that many teams had hired a llama as their spitting coach.

Columnist Bill E. Brock pointed out five years ago that “Tennis players don’t spit on the court. Golfers don’t spit on the course. Swimmers don’t spit in the pool. Football players don’t spit on the field. Boxers don’t spit in the ring. But baseball players spit everywhere except on the umpires.” (Update: They do target umps nowadays.)

Do ballplayers also spit incessantly in their homes, in stores and restaurants, in topless bars, during visits to children’s hospitals, at PTA meetings, during weddings (including their own) or anyplace other than the ballpark? Probably not. But don’t count on it.

What’s next? Spittle League Baseball? After all, beginning players emulate their major league heroes. There is at least slight evidence, in fact, that the spitting craze may already have made its way down to those levels. One of the “Bad News Bears” movies includes a team of Texas youngsters, all of whom are vigorously chewing tobacco. It would be naive to think that they swallowed their chews.

In an effort to gauge the current state of expectoration in the big leagues, I recently concluded an empirical, admittedly unsophisticated, study of spitting by one team, the 20ll Boston Red Sox.

My long-range plan is to produce a manual, The Baseball Drool Book, which will list spitistics for all major league teams, not just for the Red Sox.

For now, though, the past year’s performances by the Sox will have to suffice for starters in the new field of spitistics. Here are just a few records, which I hope will w(h)et the public’s appetite for more:

• Most spits into batting glove, then slapped, while at the plate, single game: 27. David Ortiz, May 10, 2011 vs. Toronto Blue Jays.

• Most spits by a squatting catcher politely lifting up his mask, one inning: 12. Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox, Sept. 6, 2011 vs. Toronto Blue Jays.

• Most spits into mitt, then fist pounded, while in the field, season (injury-shortened or not): 11,520. Kevin Youkilis, 2011.

• Most spits while in the on-deck circle, one inning: 11 (tie). David Ortiz, May 31, 2011 vs. Chicago White Sox; Josh Beckett, July 3, 2011 vs. Houston Astros.

• Most spits by a manager, one inning: 187. Terry Francona, June 14, 2011 vs. Tampa Bay Rays.

• Deepest spitting-debris pile, dugout floor, regulation game: 18 inches. Terry Francona, Sept. 17, 2011 vs. Tampa Bay Rays.

• Deepest spitting-debris pile, dugout floor, extra-inning game: 26 inches. Terry Francona, Sept. 25, 2011, 14 innings vs. New York Yankees. (Note: Sportswriters generally agree that Francona is a chew-in for The National Baseball Hall of Phlegm.)

• Best tribute to America’s Spatime (formerly Pastime), opening game ceremonies. RAF Alumni Flying Club, performing a four-plane World War II Spitfire flyover of Fenway Park in the Spitting Man Formation, April 8, 2008.

In 2004, Kevin Grace, a sports researcher at the University of Cincinnati, found that a growing number of baseball players were changing from tobacco to chewing gum, but that there were still many others “who mix chewing tobacco with gum or sunflower seeds.”

Somewhere in that sentence can be found a glimmer of hope that, before too long, the chew of choice might well change again. In the meanwhile, spit happens.

– Special to The Press Herald