Baseball and Chaw

January 17, 2011
By Dan Schmidt SILVER, Hartland, Wisconsin
Dan Schmidt SILVER, Hartland, Wisconsin
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

It’s uncommon to see a player without a chaw in. Today, the two go hand in hand. The question is why?

In Brian Palmer’s article, “Why Do So Many Baseball Players Chew Tobacco?” he answers these questions: how did chewing tobacco first come onto the baseball scene? Why it was introduced to baseball? What has kept it going in the sport?

When Americans started chewing tobacco, baseball was a new sport. The two began to develop while America was developing itself. In the beginning, baseball players and other Americans chewed for the same reasons; chewing soon showed special advantages towards baseball.
In Palmer’s article he states, “It spurs saliva production and lubricates the mouth in the dusty infield environment. When fielding gloves came into vogue in the 1870s and 1880s, players moistened the leather with spit. Pitchers used the juice from chaw to prepare the notorious spitball, which was widely permitted until 1920.” Beyond these reasons, baseball players also came to dislike cigarettes, due to the posing health risks brought to their attention, leaning them in the direction of chewing tobacco instead. According to Palmer, “Besides the utility of a little extra spit, many players were suspicious of smoking. Several trainers blamed fatigue and hitting slumps on cigarettes.”

Many frown upon the widespread use of chaw in baseball, but why? Yes, it causes mouth cancer. Yes, ballplayers are role models and shouldn’t exhibit this behavior. But over the course of baseball, chewing tobacco has been right there. It has intertwined itself into the fabric of baseball.

Baseball has downtime, and players get bored and lose their attention. A major league pitcher will pitch every four or five games. Between starts, he spends time in the dugout. Also, an outfielder may spend countless innings without getting a single ball hit to him. What do they do to pass the time? Chew. It serves the same purpose as chewing bubble gum or sunflower seeds (other common habits in baseball); it gives the players something to do. And it gives them a buzz.

What people need to do is accept that chewing tobacco is part of the game. Today, baseball players are almost not accepted if they don’t chew; one of the first questions asked to a new team member is, “Hey, do you chew?” If that person answers “no,” they may be an outcast or at least made fun of. Chewing tobacco isn’t the best habit, but it isn’t the worst either. Those that say chewing can kill, cause cancer, or can make one lose their jaw all share one thing in common. They’re right. But that doesn’t change anything. Baseball players brought into the game learn right away that chewing tobacco is just as big a part of the game as their glove and cleats.

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