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Roy Blount Jr.
October 06, 1980
Ballplayers love chewing sunflower seeds so much they may replace tobacco, but groundkeepers can't stand the messy little things
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October 06, 1980

The Seeds Of Content

Ballplayers love chewing sunflower seeds so much they may replace tobacco, but groundkeepers can't stand the messy little things

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"I was rounding second base once and nearly choked to death when part of one got caught in my throat," says Houston's Craig Reynolds. "I set a record for the slowest run from second to third, and I haven't eaten one since."

"The salt rubs on the inside of your cheek and kind of irritates it," cautions Bump Wills of the Rangers, who does tobacco on the field, seeds off. Most in-fielders find seeds a hindrance in their work. The Yankees' Bob Watson, for instance, is a great seed man in the dugout and clubhouse, but he doesn't want shells in the dirt around first base, where the low throws bounce. But Baltimore First Baseman Eddie Murray will reach for his seeds anytime. "You worry about Murray sometimes," says teammate Tim Stoddard. "He'll have his hand in his pocket, getting a sunflower seed, when a line drive is going out."

To the advanced user, handling line drives and seeds at the same time is just a matter of practice, practice, practice. Tobacco chewing—the expectorational acrobatics aside—requires mostly a strong stomach and a liking for stained clothes, but seed chewing demands mastery of a complex technique.

"Some people pick them out of their pocket and eat them one at a time," sniffs Seattle Pitcher Glenn Abbott. "I think they're too uncoordinated to shuck and eat a seed and still keep the others on the sides of their mouths."

"I started with one at a time," says the Dodgers' Terry Forster. "Then I went to a handful and then a bag. Oh, yeah, I put in 50 to 60 at a time. Never touch them once I get a gob in my mouth. I can eat four or five bags in nothing flat."

"If you're talented," says Ranger Manager Pat Corrales, "you keep the uneaten ones on one side of your mouth, chew the meat in the center of your mouth and, if there is no place to spit the shells, put them on the other side. Now that's an art."

"What I like to do after cracking the shells is spit them at guys who are not looking," says Wills, "because the shells stick. Sometimes there'll be 10 or 12 of them hanging on the back of a guy's uniform and he won't know it."

Baltimore Coach Elrod Hendricks claims he saw an Oriole put some seeds into his mouth when he was already chewing a mixture of tobacco and gum. "I was trying to figure out how that tasted," muses Hendricks. "Chewing tobacco and gum is enough of a chore. To eat something, too.... If they're able to do this, they should be able to do anything."

But Jackson is "the master," according to Terry Forster. "He can put a handful in his mouth, pop them, spit out the shucks and go right on playing. Reggie keeps his in his pants pocket, but if he slides he gets a lot of dirt mixed in with them." Forster theorizes that Reggie separates the grit from the seeds by shaking the seeds around in his hand before going to his mouth with them.

But why hear testimony from a student of the master when Jackson himself is perfectly willing to offer the most articulate explication of seed chewing?

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