Is chewing tobacco worth risking your life as a baseball player?
If you haven't noticed it yet, several Yankees and Phillies are chewing tobacco while playing in the 2014 World Series. Have players used tobacco all the time?
The answer is yes. During the middle of the 19th century, which was the formative era for baseball, chewing tobacco had been very popular in the US. Baseball players during this time started out chewing tobacco for no specific reason, but soon they discovered it had specific benefits for them. The act encourages saliva production, lubricating the mouth while they spend time at the dusty field. As soon as fielding gloves became common during 1870s to 1890s, the leather was moistened with spit. Pitchers made use of chaw juice to make the spitball; this was allowed until 1920.
It isn't really a surprise that chewing tobacco became associated with baseball. Both hobbies developed when USA was trying to liberate itself from Britain, both in terms of politics and culture. The preferred method for tobacco was pipe smoking until around the 18th century. The English were fond of snuff, which was tobacco powder that was finely ground and inhaled. Americans rejected the method and opted to chew tobacco. They thought that dainty boxes with which the snuff was held was a pretentious culture. When Charles Dickens visited the US in 1842, he described Washington as the center for tobacco-laced saliva. He even detailed a trial where the defendant, the jury, the judge and the spectators were all chewing tobacco. When he was in a medical college, he also noticed signs asking students spit into designated boxes so the stairs would not be discolored. During the same year of his visit, the American people played what is believed to be the first ever baseball match in Manhattan. It was during the 19th century that there was renewed interest in tobacco.
Chewing tobacco has been a practice that's hard to eliminate among baseball players, no matter how many times the MLB has discouraged it. Several veteran players have succumbed to, or are currently battling, cancers that are thought to be related to this habit. Although it is not as widespread as it used to be, there are still several players that can't kick it off their system. Starting 2011, there have been rules prohibiting teams from giving tobacco products to their players. They are provided alternatives but it seems it would be a long time before chewing tobacco can be completely eliminated among baseball players.