Whenever you watch a baseball game, it is very likely that you will notice the players having wads of tobacco in their mouths.
The constant spitting and large bulges in the players’ mouths while on the field or in the dugout are iconic parts of the game, but why do baseball players chew tobacco? The answer is largely because of the history of tobacco in baseball and the large portions of rest time in the game.
Why Do Baseball Players Chew Tobacco?
To answer why baseball players chew tobacco, we must look to the entire history of baseball. The use of chewing tobacco in baseball started from the beginning of the sport in the 1840’s.
The now obvious links of tobacco to cancer were not known at the start of the sport and thus were not thought of being included in any regulations.
The players would use tobacco off of the field and naturally, decided to continue using it during games. The popularity of tobacco since the beginning of baseball is why tobacco can be seen in games throughout its history.
Further History of Chewing Tobacco in Baseball
While chewing tobacco was always a popular part of baseball, it began to become increasingly popular starting in the 1900s.
During the earlier years of baseball, cigars and cigarettes were also commonly seen being used by players during the game. Chewing tobacco was actually less popular among players than cigarettes for periods of baseball, most notably during the mid-1900’s.
However, restrictions made by the league against smoking in stadiums ended cigarette use by players and managers. The end of smoking during games led many players back to chewing tobacco, which is still very popular in the game today.
Was Tobacco Advertised by Baseball?
The use of tobacco sponsors in baseball and all American sports, was major factor in its prevalence throughout the future of the game. From the 1920’s through the 1940’s every baseball team had an official tobacco sponsor, with many players also having individual endorsements with companies. The most famous players in baseball history such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio all had very popular advertisement campaigns with tobacco brands.
After the discovery of the harmful effects of tobacco in the 1950’s, baseball banned athletes from appearing in their jerseys for tobacco advertisements. The use of tobacco advertisements was still popular, especially in football during this time.
Why Chewing Tobacco?
Since the beginning of baseball, chewing tobacco was popular among players because it could be easily stored in their mitts during games. The chew would also keep their mouths and gloves moist, which was helpful when playing in very dry infield conditions. When smoking was banned for players in stadiums, chewing tobacco’s popularity surged throughout the league.
This surge in chewing tobacco use influenced the leading generations, with many players being inspired to chew tobacco at a young age by their favorite stars. Due to the nature of baseball’s play, there are long periods of time where players are either sitting or waiting between plays on defense. These long periods of wait influenced many players to want to chew or smoke during games as a way to remain focused during these breaks in action.
Is Tobacco Always Going to be Allowed in Baseball?
Since the early 1990’s tobacco use has been banned in all leagues of American baseball besides the Major Leagues.
Contracts held by the Player’s Union allowed all Major Leaguers to continue using chewing tobacco during games. After the links to cancer became well known among players, alternatives to chew became popular in the sport. Many players and managers have switched to chewing gum or sunflower seeds during games as a healthier alternative to chewing tobacco.
In 2016, many lawmakers who were concerned with the high risks of cancer from chewing tobacco, asked: why do baseball players chew tobacco with all the current dangers and numerous deaths of former players from oral cancer? This pressure led the Major League to ban all players entering the league from using tobacco.
The new rules allowed all former players to still use tobacco. However, it is likely the use of tobacco could end even sooner than the retirement of these players. Many states and stadiums have created heavier laws that ban the use of tobacco in public places, which has further jeopardized the future of tobacco in baseball.
Future of Chewing Tobacco
So, why do baseball players chew tobacco? Since the start of baseball, the use of tobacco has been an iconic part of the game with its “heritage” passed down through nearly two centuries of play. The end of chewing tobacco in baseball is approaching sooner than later and will soon be simply a part of baseball’s long and fascinating history.