With the Major League World Series upon us, we got to thinking…how did the sport of baseball fall for sunflower seeds? Now, the two are practically like peanut butter and jelly. Mario Kart and Nintendo 64. Even in little league, it is a common site to see kids chewing and spitting seeds before every pitch. Yet, there was once a time when baseball players chewing on this delicious snack was not a familiar sight.
Crazy, right? But, let’s not forget, the game is over one hundred years old. So, when did baseball players start chewing sunflower seeds exactly? To answer that question, let’s take a step back in time to revisit the history of this match made in heaven.
Before sunflower seeds there was chewing tobacco. Tobacco has been around since the late 1800s, while sunflower seeds came onto the scene around in the 1960’s. Dave Rosema, of the Detroit Tigers, said in a 1980 Sports Illustrated article that seeds provided “something to spot for that guys who didn’t chew.”
But seeds were not the only choice for those who didn’t chew–Rosema commented that, “the pitchers in the bullpen get hungry. We look up and see the people eating popcorn and peanuts all through the stands. Well, we’ve got our seeds.” Additionally, George Foster of the Cincinnati Reds stated, “The protein is healthy. They’re salted, and on the hot days even a little salt helps to keep us going.” If that doesn’t make you want to dive into a bag of seeds right now, we don’t know what will.
Now, if we are discussing sunflower seeds in the MLB, we have to mention Reggie Jackson who is deemed the pioneering player of chewing seeds. The 14 time All-Star, 5 time World Series champion and member of the exclusive 500 home run club was a fond chewer of the seed. According to Terry Forster, Jackson was “the master…He can put a handful in his mouth, pop them, spit out the shucks and go right on playing.”
When discussing chewing seeds during the game, Jackson told Sports Illustrated, “the nutritional value is meaningful. [They have] protein, thiamine, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus. We have to take phosphorus pills to keep from pulling muscles.” Not only was Reggie a Hall of Famer, but a player who took his diet seriously.
The option for players to have seeds appears to have been a welcome change in the league. For over fifty years now, seeds have been a mainstay for players and fans alike. Perhaps the biggest question of them all, though: How did Reggie keep the seed shells out of that majestic mustache of his?
Article Sources: Sports Illustrated – The Vault