In the Yankee
dressing room, Jackson indicates the bulge caused by a cache of 20 seeds in his
right cheek. With his tongue—the same one that leads the majors in quotes—he
selects a seed and slides it between his bicuspids. He opens his mouth, points
to the chosen seed and says, "There!" Then he raises an index finger as
a sign to pay close attention and deftly cracks—but does not yet de-meat—the
seed. He reopens his mouth, and now the seed is held firmly, but not too
firmly, between his incisors. It's important, Jackson notes, to have the ends
of the teardrop-shaped seed against the points of the teeth. His mouth closes.
Inside, something deft is done. His mouth opens again. The shell is now halved
and the nut is on the middle of his tongue. He clenches his teeth, spits out
the shell and chews the meat.
across the room. "Nettles is eating seeds now," he says, pointing to
the injured third baseman, Graig, sitting in front of his cubicle. "But he
has to eat them one at a time. And he has to pick the shells out of his mouth.
During the winter I eat seeds and drink beer," adds Jackson, who confines
himself to seeds alone while playing. "I also chew a little tobacco. I can
chew tobacco, eat seeds and drink a beer at the same time. But don't you try
it," he cautions. "You have to be an expert."
using seeds in 1968, during his first full major league season. "Rather
than chew tobacco, which isn't good for you," he says, "and rather than
chew bubble gum, which has all that sugar, I can chew seeds and still have my
nervous habit. I started eating them because they tasted good. And they were
cheap. When I started they were a nickel a bag. It was a lot of eating for a
Then, during the
'69 season, reporters started asking him about seeds. Someone at David &
Sons in Fresno, Calif. read one of the stories, and the company later sent
Jackson several cases of seeds. It was a wise business gesture. The Yankees'
Tommy John is one of many major-leaguers who say that Jackson was the first
player they ever saw doing seeds. "He always stuck his hand in his back
pocket, and then he would throw something in his mouth," says John. "I
didn't know what it was at first. Now everyone knows. Now fathers have to buy a
bag of seeds before their sons can play Little League games."
David & Sons
now has a big share of the baseball seed market. "Sunflower and baseball go
together like mom and apple pie," says Bill Thompson, the company's general
manager. "At baseball and soft-ball games in California, when there's a
quiet moment you hear a giant crunch. The ground under the bleachers is loaded
with empty shells."
however, prefer the seeds put out by the Fisher Nut Co. of St. Paul (motto:
"At Fisher we take the nut very seriously"). "Fisher's seeds are
bigger," claims Forster. "They're easier to cut with your teeth, and
the kernels are large. Other seeds are real small, and when you try to cut them
with your teeth you shatter the shell, so then you have to eat them shell and
all. Every Fisher shell has a seed inside. Some of the others are empty. You've
got to go through your supply. Toss the seeds a little way into the air, and
those with no kernel will blow away."
According to Don
Lilleboe, executive secretary of the Sunflower Association of America,
sunflowers are native to North America. Their seeds were brought to Europe by
Spanish explorers. In time they spread to Russia, where chewing them became
extremely popular. It still is, as anyone who has heard the continuous crunch
in Soviet movie theaters can attest. In the 1800s Eastern European and Russian
immigrants reintroduced them to America, where they were called "Russian
seeds have been chewed during baseball games for decades, but until recent
years any kind of eating was prohibited in major league dugouts. Enos Slaughter
and Stan Musial, however, chewed them in the 1950s. Reggie brought them to the
public eye, as we have seen, in the '60s. And now they're all over Pat
Santarone's nice field.
That's how the
state of the art of baseball chewing stands today. Except that Tommy John, who
used to be a seed man, now goes with Big Twist black licorice; U.L. Washington
of Kansas City harkens back to Sad Sam Jones by chewing toothpicks; and, well,
Terry Forster says, "I'm into straws now."
Forster pulls down
from his locker shelf a handful of those striped plastic stirrers that
accompany a Styrofoam cup of coffee. "I've got everyone in the bullpen
chewing on straws. These. These are the best straws in the league."