Why do baseball players chew gum?

by Fred Hofstetter on March 4, 2020

MLB baseball players constantly chew bubble gum, spit, gnash on sunflower seeds and tobacco. Why? Why do they do this all the time during games?

Why Baseball Players Always Chew Gum During Games

Photo credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann on Flickr

Baseball meanders. Takes its time. It’s a sport of leisure. There is no clock on this thing. Yet. Baseball bores the boorish and its pace is frequently cited as a common reason why baseball is a dying sport.

The gentlemanly among us are drawn to baseball like a moth to flame, reveling in its relative simplicity and peaceful rhythm. The crack of the bat. Smack of the glove. Innocent heckling from a rabble-rouser behind the dugout. Spectators sink into hypnosis and immerse themselves in the smells and sounds of the game.

Players, on the other hand, actually need to play the game. They are thinking about their last at-bat when they were a fraction behind the fastball in a 1-1 count and popped out in foul territory. Or the wind blowing in from right center and the pitcher’s insistence on pitching them on the outer half. Baseball requires contemplation. Strategy. Thinking.

On the field, there is time to kill and thinking to be done. This is why baseball players chew gum (and spit) during games.

1. Chewing gum is something to do.

More than anything gum is something you can do with your mouth and surrounding face while you’re waiting for something to happen. Baseball can be a waiting game. Particularly for right fielders on a softball team or any fielders when Josh Hader is pitching.

If you can’t do anything directly related to baseball, you can at least think about the gum you’re chewing. Maybe you can explore the molars area on the right side of your mouth for a few pitches. Try syncing up bubble pops with the crack of the bat on the ball.

Slosh around enough of it and you can even get a nice jaw workout. Just about anything is better than standing around doing nothing. Baseball can be slow but doesn’t allow for complete apathy. You can’t listen to a podcast or audiobook if you’re playing third base.

Chewing gum helps kill the time but isn’t distracting.

2. Dirt is a problem.

Baseball players who are doing it right wind up wearing dirt. Particularly in local fields in amateur leagues, one slide can kick up a cloud of infield dirt and you end up with a mouthful. You dry out instantly and have the taste of overstrong coffee embedded in your tongue.

Gum can be a solution. Chewing gum helps you produce saliva, get some moisture back in your head and drive out the taste of earth.

Chew gum, collect the spare dirt particles in a spitwad, and spit. Literally rinse and repeat.

3. Gum can help you relieve stress.

Baseball can be tense. Whether you’ve had a hard time picking up breaking stuff lately. Or feel the pressure of living up to a multi-million dollar contract. Going deep into a count or helplessly watching from the bench in late innings can get stressful fast.

The American Institute of Stress tells us chewing gum during games can help reduce stress:

The U.S. Army has long recognized that gum chewing reduces stress and chewing gum has been included in combat rations since World War I.

They mention baseball directly:

There is little doubt that chewing gum can be a powerful stress buster.  One has only to look at a tightly contested baseball game on TV to see how many players, coaches and managers are vigorously chewing bubble gum or something else to relieve their pent up tension.

Deep breathing only gets you so far. When you’re stressed, you need treatment. Chewing bubble gum is a physical action baseball players can take to ease their nerves and help them focus.

Actually, I just want to buy gum.

Fair enough. Stop reading, click the big green button below and start chewing gum like a big leaguer.

Get gum

4. Chewing gum helps you concentrate.

A 2015 study from BioMed Research International concludes chewing gum can “enhance attention, as well as promoting well-being and work performance.”

The study finds chewing gum helps to increase alertness and decrease anxiety, a combination every baseball player will find very useful from time to time.

Squaring up an upper-90s fastball or routinely painting a corner of the plate with off-speed pitches takes Herculean concentration. Chewing gum can help baseball players shed the distractions and focus on what they have to do.

5. Bubble gum is fun.

Riding the bench, awaiting a pinch-hit opportunity or sitting cold in the bullpen during a game isn’t always all that fun. Blowing a bubble and sticking the bubbled gum on someone’s hat, on the other hand? Fun.

Cut4 has all sorts of GIFs of MLB players showing off their bubble gum chewing skills.

6. Chewing tobacco sucks.

Over half of MLB stadiums are now tobacco-free. The latest collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between players and owners puts the kibosh on chew, dip and snuff. Players aren’t supposed to use it. Chewing tobacco makes your breath smell like death. Smokeless tobacco may share some of the aforementioned perks and advantages, but mouth and lung cancer doesn’t come in the package with chewing gum.

Many players use gum as a substitute for chewing tobacco. Drinking during a baseball game is a bad idea. So is smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Gum is a harmless substitute for players seeking a new favorite addiction to help them pass them time during a pitcher’s duel.

What do MLB players chew?

You’ll see tubs of Dubble Bubble in many dugouts. You can make gigantic bubbles with that stuff.

Big League Chew is another league-wide shredded favorite with a long history in the game.

Alternatives for orally fixated ballplayers:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Bananas
  • Nuts

Seeds can make a hell of a mess in the dugout. Gum is a stealthy loiterer on the underside of a bench or the top of a rookie’s ballcap.

Gum has always been a part of the game. Chewing gum has been including in packs of baseball trading cards going back to the early 20th century. These days you can find baseball gumballs in gumball machines, gum buckets with individually wrapped pieces, even gum filled baseball bats.

But don’t they choke on it?

If they’re amateurs, sure. Self-aware, responsible and professional gum chewers won’t have a problem. Rookies and minor leaguers who get too cocky are known to bite a lip or accidentally swallow flailing away at a slider off the plate.

Practice makes perfect. It takes a minimally competent bubble gum chewer to ascend from the minors and truly make it in the show.

Maybe you should too.

You aren’t a Major League baseball player. Probably not.

But given:

  1. It helps you focus
  2. It helps reduce stress
  3. Your athletic heroes do it
  4. It’s hilarious

Chewing gum and blowing bubbles might be a habit you want to pick up.

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