With baseball season is in full swing and splatters of spittle are hitting the ground, our minds have momentarily become distracted from all things groomsmen gift and best man gift related. Baseball season got us thinking about how one of the most enduring rituals of this all-American sport came to be. We’re talking about chaw, chew, snu, gator lip, dip, wad, redman, skoal and grit, that big pouch of gross gunk that baseball players like to stick between their lip, cheek and gums.
Anyway you say it, chewing tobacco has long been a hazardous habit associated with the wholesome-as-apple-pie sport of baseball. Have you ever wondered why, specifically, chewing tobacco and baseball players have become such an enduring image in American sports history? Well, long before the white man settled on the continent, Native Americans were chewing tobacco in some form or fashion. Eventually, tobacco became a huge commodity and by the 18th and 19th century, having a cheek full of chaw was by far the most popular method of consumption in the United States.
However, it wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that baseball players took a greater-than-average interest in this vice. The popularity of cigarettes had made gains on chewing tobacco, but athletes felt that smoking cigarettes would make them slow, sluggish and just bring on bad luck. So, they kept their cheeks filled with dip. The byproducts of chewing tobacco – ahem, spit – became a valuable resource on the baseball diamond. Guys in the dusty, dry outfield would suck on the chew to produce more saliva and juices to keep their mouths moist. Guys guarding the bases liked to lubricate and sticky up their gloves with spittle while pitchers found the now legendary (and also illegal) “spit ball” to be a secret weapon against whomever was at bat
Smokeless tobacco had become so ingrained in the culture of American baseball that marketers pushed the stuff with images of the latest hero inserted into the package – like an early (and much more carcinogenic) version of bubblegum trading cards. Case in point, the American Tobacco Company release the T206 Honus Wagner card in 1909; today it is the believed to be the most elusive and most expensive of them all. Funny thing, Wagner was one of the rare players who didn’t chew and didn’t want his name linked with tobacco advertising – oh, the irony.
But Wagner was right. Long before the serious side effects of using smokeless tobacco were confirmed, legends of the sport started hitting the ground like “dropped flies.” Babe Ruth died of mouth cancer. Curt Flood of the Cardinals, Brett Butler of the Dodgers. Bill Tuttle, center infielder for three MLB teams, was afflicted with mouth cancer and lost his teeth, jaw and right cheek. Until the end of his battle, Tuttle dedicated himself to educating American youth about the dangers of chewing tobacco.
By 1993, the MLB finally took official measures to halt the use of tobacco during baseball games. The word was smokeless tobacco could not be used in the dugout or on the field. In 2011, in a continued effort to role model to young athletes and up-and-comers, the ML said “NO” to using chew in pre and post games interviews. Basically, we don’t want to see the chew when on the “job.”
But, when there’s a will, there’s a way – especially with a nicotine addiction. Many of today’s players continue to publically use chewing tobacco. So, if it’s just about the buzz, why don’t athletes just smoke cigarettes in the dugout or take a pre-pitcher’s mound bong hit? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?!
Hope you enjoyed this little bit of baseball trivia. Do you have any good baseball trivia for us? If so, post in the comments below! If you love baseball as much as we do, check out our roster of really cool baseball-inspired items that would make excellent groomsmen gifts. From personalized MLB locker room signs to personalized keepsake baseball bats, we’ve got everything you need to knock those gifts for groomsmen right out of the park. Home run!