Ah, the athelete’s answer to candy cigarettes – Big League Chew! Now that baseball season has kicked into full gear, it brings back memories of “dipping” (with gum instead of real chewing tobacco). Oh, who am I kidding? I very rarely got to have any Big League Chew. I was never allowed to have gum unless it was sugar free. I didn’t get to have Big League Chew. I didn’t get to have Bubble Yum. I didn’t get to have Hubba Bubba. But, you know what else I didn’t get? Cavities!! Yes, my teeth to this day, are cavity free.
But, I did feel envious of my friends that got to have Big League Chew. It was so different. Instead of unwrapping a square or rectangular shaped piece of gum, you got to open a pouch, and take out as much shredded gum as you wanted.
Big League Chew was invented by Rob Nelson and Jim Bouton. Jim Bouton was a good pitcher for the New York Yankees in the early to mid ’60s. He developed arm troubles so his career dwindled. He is best known for the book he wrote, called Ball Four. In the book, Bouton wrote about his baseball career. It was unique because it was basically a “tell-all” book, which was unheard of at the time. He wrote about his exploits along with his fellow teammates, which did not go over to well with them. Nowadays, “tell-all” books are commonplace. You might say that Bouton was ahead of the curve (pun intended)!
In the late ’70s, Bouton was pitching in the minor leagues. The following is from Jim Bouton’s web site:
Sitting in the bullpen one night, Bouton watched his much younger teammates chewing tobacco. Fellow pitcher Rob Nelson said it was too bad they didn’t make gum that looked like chewing tobacco.
After the season ended Bouton called Nelson and offered to put up the money and help sell the idea. They made a great team. Bouton designed a pouch, Nelson made gum in a frying pan and they chopped it up, stuffed it in pouches and showed it to the major gum companies, who all said the same thing. “That’s interesting, but we don’t make anything like that.” Bouton and Nelson said, “Precisely!”
Finally, Amurol Products, a novelty gum company in Illinois, introduced Big League Chew in 1980. To make a long story short, in the first twelve months Amurol sold $18 million at wholesale. Big League Chew still sells today, having replaced chewing tobacco at many high schools and colleges.Follow @returntothe80s