The History and Evolution of Baseball Gum: From Black Jacks to Big League Chew
Baseball and chewing gum have gone hand in hand for over a century. The sight of a ballplayer chomping on a wad of gum has become as iconic as the crack of the bat or the umpire’s call of “strike!” But how did this marriage of sports and confectionary come to be? And how has it evolved over the years, from the days of “Black Jack” gum to the modern phenomenon of “Big League Chew”? In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the history and evolution of baseball gum.
From the Early Days to Black Jack
The origins of baseball gum can be traced back to the early days of the sport, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, chewing tobacco was the predominant oral fixation for ballplayers, as it was for many men of the era. But as concerns over the health risks of tobacco increased, some players began to look for alternatives.
One of the first of these alternatives was gum. The first gum specifically marketed to sports players was called “Base Ball Gum,” introduced in the 1890s by the Bowman Gum Company. But it wasn’t until the 1910s that gum really took off as a baseball staple, thanks in large part to the rise of “Black Jack” gum.
Introduced in 1870, Black Jack was a licorice-flavored gum that quickly became popular thanks to its bold taste and distinctive packaging, which featured a black-and-red design that evoked a sense of toughness and masculinity. It became a favorite of ballplayers, who would chew it to keep their mouths moist and their teeth clean.
The Rise of Bazooka and Beyond
Black Jack gum ruled the baseball diamond for several decades, but in the post-World War II era, a new brand emerged to challenge its supremacy: Bazooka.
Introduced in 1947, Bazooka gum was named for the weapon of the same name that was used by American soldiers in the war. But its popularity wasn’t just due to its patriotic name: it was also packaged with small comic strips featuring characters like Bazooka Joe and his friends, which kids and adults alike enjoyed.
Bazooka gum quickly became the go-to gum for baseball players, as well as a favorite of kids in general. But it wouldn’t remain unchallenged for long. In the 1970s, a new brand of gum came onto the scene that would change the game forever: Big League Chew.
The Birth of Big League Chew
Big League Chew was the brainchild of minor league baseball player Rob Nelson and his teammate Jim Bouton, who wanted a more practical and less messy way to chew gum while playing ball. They came up with the idea of shredded gum, which could be easily tucked into the side of the mouth and wouldn’t stick to teeth or make a mess.
The first batch of Big League Chew was produced in 1980, and it quickly became a sensation. Its unique packaging, which resembled a pouch of chewing tobacco, set it apart from traditional gum, and its flavors (including grape, sour apple, and cotton candy) made it a hit with kids and adults alike.
Today, Big League Chew is a major player in the gum world, with multiple flavors and variations (including shredded bubblegum and bubblegum-filled candy) available at stores nationwide.
Q: Why do baseball players chew gum?
A: Chewing gum helps keep players’ mouths moist and their teeth clean, and can even help calm nerves and improve focus.
Q: Is chewing gum bad for your health?
A: Chewing gum in moderation is generally considered safe, although excessive gum-chewing can lead to jaw problems or digestive issues.
Q: What’s the most popular flavor of baseball gum?
A: It varies from brand to brand, but classics like mint and fruit flavors tend to be the most popular.
Whether you’re a fan of Black Jack, Bazooka, or Big League Chew, there’s no denying the deep and enduring connection between baseball and gum. From its humble beginnings as an alternative to chewing tobacco, gum has become an integral part of America’s pastime, loved by players and fans alike. So the next time you’re at a ballgame, take a moment to savor that sweet, chewy goodness – and thank the players who paved the way for this delicious tradition.