If you’re watching baseball on TV you may notice a lot of players chewing gum. In fact, you may even notice the giant tubs of gum located in the dugouts for players to pull from. Why do baseball players chew gum?
Baseball players chew gum for a variety of reasons. Some players use it to substitute a chewing tobacco habit while other players use it to keep the taste of dirt out of their mouth. Others may do it out of superstition, nerves, habit, or just because they enjoy it.
These are the 5 main reasons why baseball players chew gum:
- It acts as a Chewing Tobacco Substitute
- It Removes the Taste of Dirt
- It Prevents Dry Mouth
- It Relieves Tension
- It Becomes Habit
Let’s look at what types of bubblegum baseball players chew, and the history gum has with the game of baseball and take a deeper dive to fully understand why do baseball players chew gum.
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Why Do Baseball Players Chew Gum?
Chewing Tobacco Substitute
Baseball players chew gum as a chewing tobacco substitute. Chewing tobacco has a deep-rooted history with the sport of baseball dating all the way back to the 1920s. Sport historians say originally many players believed that chewing tobacco would not affect their play on the field and believed it was a safer and healthier alternative to cigarettes.
It was not until modern day that the severe health consequences of chewing tobacco began to gain notoriety. Chewing gum, among other things, became an obvious alternative for players looking to kick their chewing tobacco habit.
In the recent decades in baseball, there have been several high-profile former professional baseball players suffer the severe health consequences of chewing tobacco. As Major League Baseball began to fully understand the health consequences and negative messaging caused by its association with chewing tobacco, they began taking critical steps to remove chewing tobacco from the game.
In 2016, the new collective bargaining agreement between the players’ union and Major League Baseball agreed to ban, from that point forward, new players from using smokeless tobacco while playing baseball.
Chewing tobacco was banned from college baseball in 1990 and from minor league baseball in 1993. The fight to remove it from Major League Baseball had been long overdue in the minds of many.
Steps are now being taken by many MLB stadiums to ban smokeless tobacco completely from their premises. As of 2018, half of the stadiums in Major League Baseball had banned smokeless tobacco.
Chewing gum isn’t the only habit that is sparked from tobacco use. Many baseball players develop a spitting habit from chewing, and continue to spit even if they are no longer chewing tobacco. To read more, visit our article Why Do Baseball Players Spit?
Remove Taste of Dirt
Baseball players chew gum to help remove the taste of dirt from their mouth. From pee wee all the way through professional baseball there are times throughout a game where dirt will get in a player’s mouth. Although professional fields are well kept and moist (which keeps dirt and sand from blowing up in a player’s face), sliding and diving face first can still result in a mouthful of dirt.
Prevent Dry Mouth
Baseball players chew gum to help prevent dry mouth. Baseball, being a dusty, dirty, outside sport played at times in extreme heat can lead to dry mouth.
This can be especially tough for fielders who do not have access to liquids while they are not in the dugout. Gum helps produce saliva and keep from getting dry mouth during those long-extended times in the field.
Some bubble gum companies produce and market their product specifically to help eliminate dry mouth in the mouth of athletes.
Baseball players chew gum to help relieve tension. Baseball is a timing sport, and even though the sport faces criticism at times for being too slow compared to other major sports, when the action does happen, it happens very fast.
Pitches are clocked at 90-100 miles per hour. Baseballs rocket off bats at speeds that can exceed 100 miles per hour. The most important moments of the game happen in split seconds.
Baseball players know the importance of staying loose and ready. Tension can cause late reactions, and late reactions can cause poor results. To combat tension, players are constantly moving and staying loose and in a ready rhythm.
Batters awaiting a pitch rock back and forth and move the bat on their shoulder. Fielders get in a ready position and creep towards the plate as the pitch is delivered.
Some baseball players chew gum to help relax and relieve tension in these split-second moments. Even if scientifically they can’t prove that gum helps improve reaction and avoid tension, some players feel like the chewing does a little part in removing the tension of those split-second moments.
Habit and Superstition
Why do baseball players chew gum? Well, one very simple reason may be that they feel luckier or more consistent with gum in their mouth.
Baseball players are creatures of habit. They are known to be superstitious and sticklers for routine. For some, chewing gum has become habit. They don’t feel comfortable playing unless they have gum to chew.
For some players, they’ve had success while chewing gum and so they stuck with it. Although there is clearly no guarantee that chewing gum makes a player perform better, it’s small superstitions like these that make there way into baseball clubhouses not only in present day, but throughout the history of the sport.
What Kind of Gum Do Baseball Players Chew?
Although baseball players are permitted to chew any type of gum they like, there are a few types of gum that are more common than others. Let’s discuss those:
Official Gum of MLB
Although Major League Baseball does not have a bubblegum listed on their official sponsor page, Dubble Bubble tubs are visible in professional dugouts. These tubs are full of individually wrapped pieces of bubblegum for players to pull from.
Dubble Bubble has a traditional bubblegum flavor that is big enough to blow large bubbles.
Big League Chew
In 1979, minor league baseball player Rob Nelson came up with the idea of shredding bubblegum and putting it in a pouch to mimic the packaging used for chewing tobacco. The look and feel of the bubblegum would be like chewing tobacco, without all the negative consequences.
Nelson began making and testing his own bubblegum, and by May 1980 – with the help of teammate a former American League all-star Jim Bouton – a contract was secured with Amurol Products and the production of Big League Chew bubblegum began.
In the decades since, Big League Chew has become a staple for kids around the sport. It is known for its rich and diverse flavors, and muscle-clad baseball figure on the front of its packages. It is offered in watermelon, grape, cotton candy, blue raspberry and sour apple flavors besides its original bubblegum flavor.
Big League Chew has an official relationship with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and markets itself as “The Hall of Fame Bubble Gum”.
Big League Chew has diversified its line of bubble gums to include tubs of individually wrapped pieces of gum as well as packs of individually wrapped bubble gum.
History of Gum in Baseball
Gum in Baseball Cards
Chewing gum started making appearances in packs of baseball trading cards dating back to the 1930s, but it was Fleer in 1952 that made it mainstream. When you opened a pack of trading cards, inside along with the cards was a pink stick of chewing gum.
For nearly four decades Fleer baseball cards were packaged alongside a stick of chewing gum for kids to enjoy. Although this tradition is no longer practiced, it affected an entire generation of players and fans, which only strengthened the association that already existed between baseball and chewing gum.
Child-Like Spirit of the Game
Professional baseball players are said to be young at heart. The child-like spirit of the game carries through all the way to the professional ranks. Professional baseball players get to play the game they have loved since being a child.
The tradition of chewing gum is a somewhat child-like quality that carries up through the ranks of baseball with these players. It symbolizes the youthful exuberance that players have for the game. It’s something that many of them have done since they were pee wee players.
And because of that, unlike chewing tobacco, it is a habit that can be shared by both professional and youth baseball players. And much like sunflower seeds, it acts as a reminder that although these players age and grow and reach new heights in the sport, it is still the sport they’ve played and loved since being a child.
Alternatives to Chewing Gum in Baseball
As we have discussed, chewing gum itself was used by many to be a healthier alternative to chewing tobacco. But bubblegum is not the only alternative that players have. Here are other alternatives:
Sunflower seeds have a deep tradition with the sport. Baseball players and coaches and fans all the way from youth baseball to professional baseball enjoy sunflower seeds as a snack during games.
Many of the same reasons that players chew bubblegum also apply to sunflower seeds. The use of sunflower seeds from youth baseball through professional baseball symbolize the child-like nature of the sport.
Sunflower seeds are a cheap snack that players and fans can enjoy. They can be found in many different flavors and sizes. And they come in small plastic packages that players can easily roll and keep in their back pocket while playing.
Pistachios are a more expensive option and much less common in baseball. Some players and fans chew them although their shells are much harder to crack and are larger than sunflower seeds.
The shells of chewed pistachios, if spit on the infield dirt, can become a small nuisance to grounds crew workers and they are not as small as sunflower seed shells.
Pistachios do not have as deep-rooted of a history with the sport as sunflower seeds and bubblegum.
Shredded beef jerky is another alternative. Although this is much less common in comparison to bubble gum and sunflower seeds, beef jerky shredded and packaged in a can similar to chewing tobacco cans, has been at times known as an alternative to chewing tobacco.
Shredded beef jerky is not something you see professional players using and is considered more of a child-like tobacco imitation.
Chewing Gum Controversy in Baseball
In professional baseball, at times there has been controversy surrounding pitchers using the sticky nature of chewing gum to help get extra grip on the baseball when pitching.
Pitchers can chew gum, stick it out from their mouth, and tap their fingers against the chewing gum moments before delivering a pitch to get a bit of tackiness on their fingertips.
Although it is not illegal for pitchers to chew gum in Major League Baseball, it is against the rules to use a foreign substance to create an added advantage when gripping the baseball.
Gum is not the only foreign substance that pitchers will use to get a grip boost. Pine tar, spray sunscreen, and rosin, among other things, have been used by pitchers to get an illegal advantage when gripping a baseball.
Bubble Gum, Bloopers, and Highlights
Bubble gum also has a significant place in blooper reels around the sport of baseball. Players can often use bubble gum as a prop for pranks on other players. Some players will blow a bubble then stick the bubble on top of another player’s hat without them knowing.
There are also many highlights of player’s making incredible fielding plays or hitting home runs while also blowing a bubble with their bubble gum.