When watching a baseball game, you may notice that almost all the players wear black under their eyes. The patterns of the “eye-black” are usually unique to each player. They may leave you wondering why do baseball players put black under their eyes?
The answer is a combination of history, eye protection from the sun, and a new personal statement of style.
Why Do Baseball Players Put Black Under Their Eyes?
The history of why baseball players put black under their eyes, is said to have originated with Babe Ruth in the 1930s, to help reduce glare from the sun.
Ruth would smear grease under his eyes. Seeing Babe Ruth was the most famous baseball player, it led to many other players copying his eye-black use. As time went on, the use of eye-black spread throughout baseball. Now, almost every player uses eye-black of some sort.
Further History and “Spread” of Eye-Black
After gaining massive popularity in baseball, the use of eye-black “spread” into other American sports, increasing the most use in football and lacrosse.
As they play outdoor sports in the sun or powerful floodlights, the need to reduce glare was critical, especially when athletes couldn’t wear sunglasses. In football and lacrosse, they could not wear sunglasses because of the physicality of the sport.
What Was Used as Eye-Black?
As time went by, the use of eye-black in all sports evolved with changing cultures. At the beginning of its use, eye-black was mainly grease that could be easily found by all baseball players.
In football, ash was often used from burnt cork. After years of using grease or ash, specialty eye-black was explicitly created for athletes. This new commercial eye-black was less messy, not as damaging to the skin, and were more comfortable to wear than grease or ash,
Why Are There Different Styles of Eye-Black?
With the use of commercial eye-black many different ways to apply and style, the eye-black became popular. In modern baseball, many players will “paint” their faces in eye-black replicating war paint.
Different symbols have been drawn on players’ faces using eye-black, many for religious purposes. There have even been many colors that aren’t black worn by players, usually to match their uniforms.
Many players have signature eye-black styles that are replicated by fans in attendance. There have been eye-black brands that have been marketed as sweat-proof, but many players continue to use traditional paint.
This is due to some players wanting to look intimidating when eye-black smears across their faces from sweating and “playing with great passion” during the game.
Why Do Some Players Use Stickers for Eye-Black?
Along with sweat-proof types of eye-black, there have been many brands that created stickers in the shape of eye-black. These stickers are also used so that the eye-black doesn’t smear due to sweat or from being rubbed.
The labels are also more comfortable for players to apply themselves as it can be difficult to draw perfect eye-black on your own face.
With the increased use of stickers, many players have added words or brands to the labels on their eye-black. Popular writings on stickers include favorite quotes, slogans, team logos, or funny images.
The use of writing on eye-black stickers has been banned in college sports; however, due to league officials wanting to keep possible corporate logos or personal beliefs off of athletes’ faces.
Is Eye-Black Actually Effective at Reducing Glare?
One of the most polarizing discussions about eye-black is if it actually reduces the sun’s effect on players’ vision. The old scientific explanation of eye-black was that skin reflects the most light, but eye-black with absorb all light so glare won’t affect the athlete’s vision.
This has been debated by many athletes, fans, and scientists. Some athletes don’t wear eye-black because they don’t believe it improves their vision while playing. The debate between scientists has mostly asked: why do athletes put black under their eyes if the actual effects are not that helpful in reducing glare?
To answer this question, much research has taken place, which actually proves that eye-black helps improve vision while playing.
Glare does not always seem to be reduced due to eye black, which has made the old explanation not as accurate in modern trials. However, in all studies, eye-black allows players to tell the difference between light and dark better, which is useful for finding a ball in the sun.
Eyes Towards the Future of “Eye-Black”
So, why do baseball players put black under their eyes? It’s mostly for style and because they have worn it throughout baseball history.
However, because it is scientifically proven to improve vision, it allows for an advantage for those who wear it. No matter what the explanation, eye-black will continually be used in baseball throughout the rest of history.