America may not be ready for the sight of thousands of miniature Don Zimmers and Nellie Foxes running around Little League diamonds with their cheeks all puffed out. But Jim Bouton—yes, the Jim Bouton—and Amurol Products, a subsidiary of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, are hoping that the kids are going to sink their teeth into Big League Chew, a sort of G-rated version of Red Man. Big League Chew is bubble gum packaged exactly like chewing tobacco. Inside a stay-fresh pouch there are enough shredded strips of the pink stuff to equal 26 sticks of bubble gum. Says Bouton, "I invented it to help ballplayers, and other kids, to maintain their proper image without losing their lunches." However, a kid of any age who chews too much of BLC may lose his teeth.
Bouton and another pitcher named Rob Nelson thought up the idea for Big League Chew one night in 1977 when they were both sitting in the bullpen of the Class A Portland Mavericks. Nelson's excuse is that he's left-handed. "We were talking about how disgusting chewing tobacco really is," Bouton recalls, "yet how important it is for a big-leaguer's sense of manhood. That's when Rob said there ought to be something that looks and feels like chewing tobacco, but that tastes good." Bouton and Nelson sent away for some bubble-gum base, and when it arrived they mixed it with molasses to give it a tobacco color and cut the stuff up with a knife. Bouton designed a label that included the endorsement, " 'Best I ever tried'—Jim Bouton," and made up about 12 packages. He then took them around to half a dozen gum manufacturers. "They all laughed and sent me away," says Bouton. Finally, Wrigley chomped on the idea and began testing the gum in different colors. Children responded best to the traditional pink, although Bouton hopes that BLC will someday come in brown.
Big League Chew sells for 59� a pouch, and this summer, its first on the market, sales have been phenomenal. In fact, Wrigley can't make enough BLC to keep it on the shelves. Unless the bubble bursts, Big League Chew should really take off next year, which would be good news indeed for Bouton and Nelson, who get nearly a penny for every pouch sold. The two aren't sitting back, waiting for their royalties, though. Bouton writes a syndicated column and does some public speaking, and Nelson is still pitching—in Holland—and coaches the Portland State baseball team.
How good is Big League Chew? Because the idea started in a bullpen, an independent test of the product was conducted in the New York Yankees' bullpen. "I really like it," said Relief Pitcher Ron Davis. "I'm a kid at heart, and this is terrific." Rich Gossage, ace of the Yankee pen, wasn't so enthusiastic. "Bouton invented this, huh? Figures," he said. "But crazier things have gone over big." Bullpen Catcher Dom Scala chewed it over and said, "I like the concept, but the gum lacks the consistency you'd need to wrap it around your tobacco." Scala also pointed out that although the package says "flavor lasts nine innings." the gum would be lucky to get the chewer past the top of the second.
But Big League Chew is really for kids, so the last word goes to Chris Frey, 12, of Elmira, N.Y. "Nyish ish gudd ssshtooff," says Chris, proving once again that you shouldn't talk and chew gum at the same time.