Smoking History: Cigars and Baseball

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Smoking History: Cigars and Baseball

Baseball – the great American pastime and a beautiful game loved nationwide. It’s a sport that can get dramatic with a single swing, making fans leap from their seats with excitement.

But it’s also a slow burner, with some games lasting for over three hours. With avid fans spending lengths of time watching their favorite team play, it’s no surprise cigar smoking was once common while watching the game.

Let’s go back in time a little to understand cigar history in baseball better, including how the sport became so connected to the tobacco industry and what ties they might still have today.

Tobacco advertising & Baseball games

While the Major League Baseball Player Association recently signed the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2021 to ban tobacco products from MLB venues, smoking was once very common in a stadium. Why was this the case? Advertising.

Advertising is everywhere and is especially prevalent in sports. With viewers both in and out of stadiums, it makes sense for companies to splash their brand across seating platforms and billboards. While the initial cost for advertising was and can be high, the payoff was worth it once fans started to recognize a brand as prevalent in the sports industry and started regularly buying their products.

Tobacco advertising at baseball games really swung into play in 1912 when the Bull Durham tobacco company installed billboards with their branding at many major league stadiums. They even promised players $50 to hit the sign to ensure everyone saw their advertising and remembered their brand the next time they bought a pack of smokes.

Things ramped up even more during the 1950s. Marlboro was a household name commonly placed atop the scoreboard and exit signs, and their products were widely sold in stadiums. There was further advertising of tobacco products within baseball stadiums after 1971 when televised tobacco advertising was banned.  

While advertising is still prevalent in sports stadiums today, you won’t see tobacco brands like you would have in the 20th century.

Cigar boxes and baseball cards

Collecting baseball cards is pretty common, but did you know the popularity of baseball cards stems from the tobacco industry?

The earliest editions of baseball cards were slipped into cigarette packs. This was around 1888, when tobacco was packed loosely in thin paper wrappings. Companies would use baseball cards to add structure to cigarette packages, protecting their integrity as much as possible for sales. While the initial idea behind the cards was practicality, baseball and tobacco quickly became a powerhouse for promotions.

Baseball cards in tobacco items also came at a time when the tobacco industry began marketing its products as something that could enhance a healthy lifestyle. Nowadays, when we know much more about how smoking can impact our health, promoting tobacco products through the sports industry and its athletes might seem absurd. While promoting tobacco alongside sports is no longer allowed, most major league teams of the time had a tobacco sponsorship.

The idea behind the health benefits of smoking cigars was that it was stimulating. By connecting popular baseball players to tobacco products, cigars and cigarettes were seen as healthy products that should be encouraged.

As the 1950s rolled into the 1960s, there was an increase in studies around smoking, and fewer doctors recommended cigars and cigarettes to patients. Tobacco companies might have taken an immediate hit because of this if it weren’t for chewing tobacco. Thanks to this handless and smokeless tobacco alternative, players could promote products from the bench and even on the pitch. Fans who bought snuff boxes would still find cards of their favorite players inside, and the tobacco industry could still promote athletes who smoke while selling their products.

Baseball games and cigar smoking

Aside from fans wanting to do something to relate to their favorite players, watching the game was a great time to smoke.

A traditional five-inch cigar takes an average of 45 minutes to smoke. With some games lasting several hours, they offered the perfect opportunity to sample several variations throughout a game. Baseball has a leisurely pace, making it well matched for cigar smokers.

If fans were hoping to smoke throughout the whole game, they would need several stogies to see them through. Churchill cigars are aptly sized for such viewing, as they’re one of the larger options of cigar sizes, averaging a grand length of seven inches with a 47 ring gauge. 

While it may not be as talked about, there are plenty of athletes nowadays who smoke. Thanks to advertising and the game’s slow pace, it has especially been the case with famous baseball players smoking cigars.

Babe Ruth Cigars

One of the most notable baseball players who smoked cigars was George Herman Ruth Jr., better known as Babe Ruth. He was a dominant left-handed pitcher between 1914 and 1935, playing for notable teams like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and was largely associated with cigars. Not only was he a well-known smoker in cigar history, but he also knew how to hand-roll his own stogies. He was known to smoke around four large Cuban cigars every evening, which later led to having a cigar named after him.

Other Baseball Players Who Smoked Cigars

Lou Gehrig had an impressive career with the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939, but he was also a well-known cigar smoker. The same goes for other famous players like Roger Maris, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez.

These players had personal preferences for their cigar choices, but whatever they smoked placed them firmly in cigar history.

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