Why Do Baseball Players Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Anyone who’s watched even a small amount of baseball may notice the peculiar phenomenon of multiple baseball players chewing and spitting while on the field. Although this may seem like odd behavior, chances are they are just eating sunflower seeds, but why do baseball players eat sunflower seeds?

The main reason baseball players eat sunflower seeds during a game is that baseball is a stressful sport that requires players to stay focused. Therefore, eating sunflower seeds is a simple and effective way to keep players engaged during lulls in play.

To better understand why baseball players eat sunflower seeds as opposed to other snacks, it is worth exploring the benefits of sunflower seeds in detail; whereafter, we will look at the history of sunflower seeds in baseball and why they trumped other snacks.

Why Do Baseball Players Chew Sunflower Seeds?

There are three main reasons baseball players eat sunflower seeds (along with some historical reasons which will be discussed below) they are:

  • Stress relief,
  • They help players to focus, and
  • They are a healthy snack.

1. Stress Relief

Although baseball may not appear at face value to be a stressful game, it’s a technical sport that relies on “clutch” moments and quick thinking to decide the overall winner.

Furthermore, there is a lot of internal and external pressure on players to perform at their very best. Because MLB attracts “A-type” personalities and competitive athletes, many athletes are only satisfied if they put in consistent world-class performances.

Regarding external pressures, the MLB has some of the most dedicated fans in the world, as well as massive financial investment from owners/shareholders. Couple fan/owner pressure with fame and an ever-expanding player base vying for your position in an MLB team, and it’s understandable that many MLB players live stressful lives.

Consequently, being able to chew/eat a snack like sunflower seeds creates a rhythmic motion and a way to ground players in reality (like how other stress-relieving devices such as stress balls and fidget spinners help release nervous energy.) 

2. Help Players To Focus

Similar to how the rhythmic chewing of sunflower seeds helps players reduce their stress by committing to a repetitive motion, eating sunflower seeds helps players stay engaged and focused during lulls in an MLB game.

Thus, unlike other sports such as basketball which have limited downtime and require full engagement from all players on the court at all times, baseball includes periods of static movements, such as when fielders are waiting for a pitch or the ball to be hit in their direction.

Therefore, having something to do which is easy and non-invasive to play, such as eating sunflower seeds, is a great way to keep players engaged and focused during periods of the game when they may not be physically active.

3. Healthy Snack

As professional athletes, baseball players need to watch and monitor their diet at all times carefully. Therefore, sunflower seeds are a favorite snack over other snacks due to a myriad of health benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Lowering your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure,
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits (which is vital for professional athletes!)
  • Reducing high cholesterol,
  • Supporting the immune system,
  • Improving energy levels,
  • High in protein, fiber, and healthy fats,
  • Natural antioxidant,
  • A source of nine essential vitamins and minerals (vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin b6, iron, copper, selenium, manganese, zinc, and potassium.)

Furthermore, all the benefits of sunflower seeds can be achieved with small quantities of approximately ¼ cup a serving, making them an ideal snack to eat at one’s leisure during a baseball game.

Editorial credit: Conor P. Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com

Which Famous Baseball Players Ate Sunflower Seeds?

Although eating sunflower seeds has become synonymous throughout baseball leagues, the first recorded instances of eating sunflower seeds in the professional leagues can be traced back to the 1950s.

During the 1950s, Hall of Fame teammates Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter were regularly seen chewing and eating sunflower seeds while in the dugout or on the field (as opposed to other players that favored chewing tobacco – see below for more details.)

While both players were the beginning of the trend, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that another Hall of Famer and baseball legend, Reggie Jackson, would make eating sunflower seeds a staple of baseball culture.

In fact, the popularity of eating sunflower seeds reached a point in the 1980s that multiple groundsmen would complain about the state of baseball pitches and the large quantities of husked seeds on the ground following a game – thus leading to coach Claude Osteen referring to it as the “era of the bird seed.”

In conclusion, while eating bird seeds won’t result in a baseball player making the Baseball Hall of Fame, there’s no denying the role top baseball players had in bringing sunflower eating to mainstream baseball culture.

Can MLB Players Chew Tobacco?

While chewing tobacco was a common pastime for many major league baseball players in the decade, there has been a move away from the usage and culture of chewing tobacco as a result of its adverse effects on one’s health.

Consequently, the MLB’s collective bargaining agreement in 2016 banned the chewing of tobacco among all new major league players, while many MLB stadiums banned the use of all tobacco products.

Although there has been success in reducing the number of players that chew tobacco (from over 50% to below 37% in recent years,) the percentage of MLB players that still use chewing tobacco remains an issue, as it is well above the average usage of other people in America.

What Other Snacks Do Baseball Players Chew?

While not as common as sunflower seeds, many players enjoy chewing gum as it provides a similar rhythmic motion to calm one’s nerves and help them focus, all the while being convenient and non-intrusive to play.

However, chewing gum does not have the health benefits of sunflower seeds, nor can players spit out chewing gum during a game, as it can ruin pitches and cause significant disruptions!


In conclusion, due to the health benefits of eating sunflower seeds during a baseball game (both physically and mentally) while acting as a healthy alternative to baseball’s problem with chewing tobacco – it is likely that sunflower seeds will remain a staple in baseball for years to come!


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