Whether you watch baseball games in a stadium or on TV, you’ll have noticed many players chewing gum and blowing bubbles and the question has probably arisen: Why do baseball players chew gum?
Baseball players chew gum for a variety of reasons, mostly because bubble gum removes the taste of dirt (after sliding); relieves stress, anxiety, and tension; and prevents dry mouth.
It turns out that when it comes to baseball, chewing gum has a plethora of benefits, especially when compared to chewing smokeless tobacco and other forms of tobacco.
If you want to know the type of gum baseball players like and why, read on.
Ball Players and Baseball Gum
We’ve been taught that bubble gum causes tooth decay, and when sweetened with sugar, can even lead to tooth erosion. So why do baseball players chew gum?
Baseball is a very intense sport and this intensity, coupled with extreme heat, means players are susceptible to getting dry mouths which can adversely affect their performance. Baseball players chew gum as a substitute for tobacco to prevent that from happening.
As long as our favorite ballplayers aren’t spitting the gum out in the field, they’re allowed to have chewing gum moments while playing.
It may surprise you to know that there’s a pretty interesting history where gum and baseball are concerned. Let’s take a deeper dive to learn more.
How the Gum Chewing Tradition Started
Chewing tobacco lost its appeal when its negative effects began to manifest in professional players. When Bill Turtle lost his life to oral cancer, Major League Baseball (MLB) actively started to phase out chewing tobacco from the MLB stadiums.
By 2018, half of the major league stadiums had successfully banned smokeless tobacco use among players and have long-term goals that see to its complete eradication from the game.
Banned from college baseball in 1990, the tobacco ban further progressed to include Minor League Baseball less than three years later. Chewing tobacco was quickly replaced by gum in a bid to end tobacco use among MLB players.
Chewing gum has long since become a common practice in a baseball game. Its popularity shot up when the Topps Company started selling baseball cards and bubble gum in 1938.
This marketing strategy had two outcomes:
- It made the sport more popular among kids.
- Compared to tobacco, it gave fans a safer alternative while watching the game.
In 1952, Fleer further popularized baseball trading cards and chewing gum by including trading cards with every stick of chewing gum.
This marketing idea helped build a market that associated gum with baseball games. This association continued even after the trading cards were discontinued after four long decades on the market.
How Does Chewing Gum Help Baseball Players?
One reason professional baseball players chew gum is because it helps many players improve their game. Let’s take a look at the specific reasons.
Removes the Taste of Dirt
The playing field has a lot of dirt. While the field is kept moist, the infield dirt can end up in a player’s mouth for a variety of reasons.
It could be because of the wind blowing sand in the player’s face or the player sliding or diving face-first to reach a base quickly.
Many baseball players chew gum to remove the taste of dirt from their mouths. By chewing bubble gum, players are able to increase their saliva and spit the dirt out.
Prevents Dry Mouth
Baseball is an outdoor sport played on a dirty, dusty field during the hot summer season. They’re tough conditions that can affect a player’s performance, that’s why dry-mouth prevention is essential.
When stationed in the dugout with no access to liquids, players chew gum to produce saliva and prevent dry mouth.
Chewing bubble gum is also helpful for coaches who have to shout out instructions.
Reduces Tension and Stress
Baseball can be an intense game fraught with pressure, stress, and anxiety. Chewing gum helps relieve stress.
It helps players relax when they’re faced with crucial decisions. Chewing gum also helps relieve tension and reduce stress by taking the focus away from the pressure of winning the game.
Players indulge in chewing baseball gumballs because it
- keeps players focused on the game;
- improves heart rate and blood pressure; and
- improves situational judgment.
Is It Habit-Forming?
Like anything we do frequently, gum chewing can become a habit, and superstition fuels the habit. Some players believe that it makes them luckier, helps them perform better, and makes them more consistent.
Despite these beliefs, there is no recorded evidence that this particular habit has ever led a player or team to perform better than they usually do.
What Type of Gum Do Baseball Players Chew?
Big fans of the sport will want to know: What type of gum do baseball players chew? Here are some common ones:
Dubble Bubble and Major League Baseball
MLB doesn’t sponsor a specific brand of bubble gum but tubs full of individually wrapped pieces of Dubble Bubble have been seen in professional dugouts. If you see players blowing bubbles, it’s most likely Dubble Bubble.
Other brands of bubble gum baseball players and big leaguers enjoy include Original Bubblicious, Hubba Bubba, and Bubble Yum.
Big League Chew
Founded in 1980, Big League Chew is the brainchild of Minor League Baseball player Rob Nelson.
It has been marketed as a shredded bubble gum that can easily be inserted in pouches that resemble the ones used for chewing tobacco.
Big League Chew quickly became a staple with kids and has remained popular. Since its release, it has sold over 800 million packets.
Available in tubs and individually wrapped pieces, Big League Chew, or The Hall of Fame Bubble Gum, comes in a variety of flavors such as original, blue raspberry, cotton candy, grape, sour apple, strawberry, and watermelon. With so many choices, it’s easy to see why many players opt for Big League Chew.
Alternatives to Chewing Gum
Chewing gum has long been used as a chewing tobacco substitute. However, it isn’t the only option available to sports enthusiasts.
Baseball players can also chew on:
Sunflower Seeds enjoy a long tradition in the field. Aside from being healthier than chewing gum, sunflower seeds also come in a range of flavors.
They’re also small enough to fit in the back pocket of ball players’ athletic uniforms.
Easy accessibility and the health benefits make sunflower seeds a great snack to munch on.
Pistachios are expensive, but they’re the healthiest snack option when you’re out on the field. However, because of their hard-to-crack outer shells, they’re not the most practical snack, which explains why they’re the least favorite snack among players.
Shredded beef jerky is packed into a can that’s similar to chewing tobacco cans and can be consumed while on the field.
Chewing beef jerky sounds unconventional but it is an agreeable alternative to chewing gum, especially for budding baseball players who like how closely it resembles tobacco chewing.
Do Baseball Players Spit During the Game?
Baseball players spit a lot. It’s part of baseball culture.
However, in June 2021, the MLB announced that spitting will no longer be an accepted practice due to the global coronavirus.
Undoubtedly, this will be a challenge for professional players whose spitting has become ingrained in their muscle memory.
Do Baseball Players Still Chew Tobacco?
According to the new collective bargaining agreement signed in 2016 with the Players Union, Major League Baseball agreed that new players cannot chew smokeless tobacco and other forms of tobacco, or indulge in dipping (the act of placing tobacco between the lip and gum). Old MLB players, or players who chewed tobacco before 2016, are exempt from this rule.
The new collective bargaining agreement may sound absurd since some professional baseball players are allowed to chew tobacco while others aren’t. However, it has been instrumental in phasing out the practice of chewing tobacco on the field.
Will Players Chew Baseball Bubble Gum in the Upcoming Seasons?
The upcoming seasons will see a diversion from chewing anything that requires spitting while playing baseball.
For example, sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts are a big no-no. However, expect to see baseball bubble gum retaining its popularity.
Professional baseball players chewing baseball gum is not a recent phenomenon. It has been a tradition since the start of Major League Baseball.
However, those still chewing tobacco while playing should consider the benefits of chewing gum instead.