Baseball, America’s favorite pastime, is rich in traditions, strategies, and nuances that are as riveting as the game itself. One such intriguing aspect often noticed by the observers of the sport, especially those new to it, is the smudge of black grease that the players conspicuously wear under their eyes – a tradition known as “eye black.” In this article, we will delve into this peculiar yet iconic practice, discussing its historical origins, purpose, controversies surrounding its effectiveness, and the continuing adoption by baseball players. It promises to be an illuminating journey into why baseball players put black under their eyes, and the role of this enduring practice in the fascinating game of baseball.

The Phenomenon of Eye Black in Baseball

The term “eye black” refers to the black substance applied under the eyes, usually in a smear-like style, by athletes for purported functional and psychological benefits. While it is not unique to baseball and is seen in other outdoor sports, its prevalence is particularly notable among baseball players.

Brief Introduction to Eye Black in Baseball

Eye black ubiquitously features on the faces of baseball players. From Little League games to professional Major League Baseball matches, you’ll observe players of every level adorning their cheeks with these curious smudge marks beneath their eyes. But why? What purpose does the eye black serve, and how does it work? Conjectures range from reducing the sun’s glare and enhancing focus to psychological intimidation and maintenance of tradition. But to comprehend the utility and significance of eye black fully, a step back into its historical origins becomes pivotal.

The Historical Origins of Eye Black in Baseball

The history of baseball player eye black can be traced back to the 1920s, when it was popularized by one of baseball’s legendary players, Babe Ruth. The early version of the eye black applied by Ruth was a homemade blend of burnt cork ashes and shoe polish. The practice was innovative and was purported to have functional value in improving on-field performance. Over time, contributing to the glamour and strategy of the game, the use of eye black became widespread and is now an integral part of the sport’s culture.

Understanding the Composition of Eye Black

why do baseball players put black under their eyes

Before diving into the purpose and effectiveness of eye black and why do baseball players wear eye black, let’s explore its composition and its evolution from an improvised grease-smudge to sleek, adhesive stickers.

Early vs Modern Ingredients of Eye Black

As discussed earlier, Babe Ruth’s pioneering formula contained ashes from a burnt cork and shoe polish, creating a dark, thick paste that could be applied under the eyes. Fast forward to today, and the composition of the modern eye black significantly changed, featuring ingredients like beeswax, paraffin, and carbon soot suspended in a base of petroleum jelly or other emollients.

The Evolution from Grease to Stickers

The traditional method of applying eye black involves smearing the grease-like substance under the eyes, drawing noticeable streaks on the players’ faces. However, innovation didn’t stop at the new ingredients. The advent of eye black stickers made them an attractive alternative due to their ease of application and minimal residue after removal, at the same time fulfilling the same stated purpose as their grease counterparts. These stickers are usually made of a patented fabric with adhesive properties – a far cry from the makeshift concoction used by Babe Ruth and his contemporaries.

Investigating the Purpose of Eye Black in Baseball

Quite naturally, the most pressing question that one comes across is – what is eye black for in baseball? The answer is far from straightforward, with differing claims and ensuing debates surrounding its functional advantages.

Effect of Eye Black on the Perception of Ball in Light

From a straightforward perspective, tracking a fast-moving white ball against the backdrop of bright lights and vast expanses of sky can be challenging. Whether it’s battling the harsh sunlight during day games or the glaring stadium lights in evening matches, eye black is intended to help players combat this visual nuisance.

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The science behind this is intriguing – it’s believed that eye black absorbs visible light more effectively than natural skin tones, reducing glare and aiding the players in tracking the ball’s trajectory more accurately. The black color of the eye black reflects less light than skin, possibly enhancing the perceived contrast of the white baseball against the sky or the stadium lights, and thus potentially improving a player’s ability to follow the ball.

Role of Eye Black in Enhancing Player Competitiveness

Proponents of eye black believe it provides more than just functional attributes – they argue that the practice enhances a player’s sense of competitiveness. When you step onto the field, the feeling of “game face” that comes with painting eye black under your eyes can provide a mental boost, making the player feel more focused, fierce, and ready for the challenge. Therefore, wearing eye black can have potent psychological effects that can indirectly influence an athlete’s performance.

The Creator of Eye Black Trend in Baseball: Babe Ruth

While it’s known that Babe Ruth has a significant role in popularizing the eye black trend, it’s fascinating to understand his personal experience with eye black and the influence his adoption has had on baseball culture.

Babe Ruth’s Personal Experience with Eye Black

As a dedicated and innovative player, Ruth was reportedly always looking for ways to get an edge in the game. He was the first to take science and incorporate it into his routine approach, and eye black was part of that. Ruth improvised the early version of eye black with materials available to him at the time – burnt cork ashes and shoe polish. He used this concoction to enhance his ability to track the baseball, especially in challenging light conditions.

The Influence of Babe Ruth’s Eye Black Usage

As with many things Babe Ruth did, his use of eye black caught the attention of the baseball fraternity and gradually became more prevalent. His larger-than-life persona, iconic status, and significant success in the sport gave credibility to the use of eye black. Baseball players at every level, seeing him harnessing the benefits of that simple dark smear under his eyes, started emulating it, eventually leading to the wide-scale adoption we witness today.

Discussing the Effectiveness of Eye Black in Baseball

Despite the strong tradition that supports the use of eye black in baseball, the jury is still out on its tangible benefits. A closer look at some current discussions about its effectiveness will help decode this further.

Psychological Benefits and Cultural Significance of Wearing Eye Black

Undoubtedly, the psychological benefits of wearing eye black feature prominently in players’ reasons for continuing the practice. From a psychological standpoint, adorning eye black creates a sense of uniformity and solidarity among teams (not to forget the intimidation it exudes to the opponents!). It can enhance confidence, promote perceived aggressiveness, and fuel their competitiveness. From a cultural standpoint, it has become a tradition among baseball players to wear eye black, symbolizing a badge of honor and an integral part of sporting identity for many.

Controversies Surrounding Tangible Benefits of Eye Black

However, the debate around the tangible or physical benefits provided by the eye black is less clear-cut, remaining a contentious issue. Some argue that, while it appears to make sense theoretically, the practical advantage of reducing glare and improving contrast sensitivity with eye black has not reached conclusive evidence.

Scientific Research on the Impact of Eye Black

Given the proliferation of eye black usage across fields, it is unsurprising that it has been the subject of numerous scientific studies aiming to verify its supposed benefits. Here’s an overview of some critical findings.

Overview of Findings from Various Studies on Eye Black

Studies on the effectiveness of eye black have come out with mixed results. While some research supports the idea that it reduces glare and improves contrast sensitivity, others suggest that the benefits are minimal at best. Yet it is important to note that even minor improvements, as reported by some studies, could translate into significant performance gains in the high-stakes, highly-competitive realm of professional sports.

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Understanding Specific Results from “MythBusters,” Yale University, and University of New Hampshire Researches

The hit TV show “MythBusters” explored the phenomenon of eye black in a 2008 episode. The conclusion? Any reduction of glare was minimal. However, it was deemed beneficial in differentiating between light and dark, possibly aiding in tracking the baseball.

A study conducted at Yale University reported that traditional eye black grease did indeed reduce glare and improve contrast sensitivity. Still, it was quick to assert that the overall effect was rather minuscule. Another study at the University of New Hampshire echoed similar findings, noting that eye black grease proved more effective in minimizing sunlight glare than anti-glare stickers or petroleum jelly.

Concluding Thoughts: Why do Baseball Players Continue to Wear Eye Black?

Given the mixed results from scientific studies and ongoing controversies surrounding the tangible benefits of eye black, its widespread use in baseball may seem perplexing. However, it’s clear that eye black’s allure extends beyond mere functionality, permeating the realms of psychology, culture, and tradition.

The Tradition of Wearing Eye Black: Myth or Science?

Tradition, for one, plays a significant role in the perseverance of eye black. Its usage has been passed down through generations of baseball players. The lore of legends like Babe Ruth wearing eye black contributes to its undying charm and reverence in the sport. As we have seen, the support for the scientific benefits of eye black, while not decisive, isn’t devoid of evidence either. Minor improvements can go a long way in high-level competitions, leading players to believe in the power of the dark smear.

The Role of Eye Black in Today’s Baseball

Despite the debates about its effectiveness, the practice of wearing eye black remains almost as prevalent today as it was during Babe Ruth’s time. It continues to be an integral part of the sport – a symbol of the gladiatorial spirit of the players as they venture onto the battlefield of the diamond. Consider them warpaint, if you will – embodying the courage, intensity, and camaraderie that unites players on the field, fortifying them against the glaring challenges, both literally and figuratively.

From a merely functional perspective, the question of why do baseball players wear black under their eyes is still open to interpretation. While inconclusive in terms of tangible benefits, the psychological edge, solidarity, and the pure love for baseball tradition that eye black symbolizes, fosters an aura that transcends the realm of the skin-deep and reaches into the heart of the sport. In the grand drama that is baseball, eye black indeed has its compelling role to play.

Why Do Baseball Players Use Eye Black: The Origin and Purpose

Why Do Players Use Eye Black?Who Popularized Eye Black?What is Eye Black Made of?
It is hypothesized that eye black can help a player course the ball in the air easier. When a player is running across a field, there are many types of lights pointed in their direction. The eye black absorbs the interfering light better than the natural skin tone can, decreasing glare.One of the first recorded instances of a player wearing eye black was Babe Ruth. Later on, other players began following his trend because they believed it gave them a psychological advantage and heightened their competitiveness.Eye black was originally made of grease containing burnt cork ashes and shoe polish. Modern eye black comprises beeswax, paraffin, and carbon soot. Besides, there are eye black stickers made of patented fabric with adhesive.

Does Eye Black Really Work?

Does Eye Black Work?Conclusions from Studies and Expert OpinionsAlternatives to Eye Black
There are differing opinions among experts about the quantifiable benefits of using eye black. Some believe that the reduction of glare is substantial, but it varies based on the players’ eye color. Traditional eye black grease is considered more effective than anti-glare stickers, but there isn’t much research to support this claim.Studies conducted by the University of New Hampshire and Yale University suggested that traditional eye black grease reduces glare and improves contrast sensitivity. However, anti-glare stickers and petroleum jelly were found to have no impact. Despite finding these benefits, researchers are still unsure about how much it benefits players during actual gameplay. Dr. Kenneth Fuld from the University of New Hampshire expressed doubts about its significant effect.Some players choose not to wear eye black. For instance, tennis players don’t use eye black but still perform at a high level.

The Mystery and Significance of Eye Black in Baseball

Ever stared at a baseball game and found yourself pondering why baseball players have black lines under their eyes? This is all down to the concept of ‘eye black’. And if you’re as curious about this peculiar trend as I once was, then you’ll be fascinated by some insights surrounding it.

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Unveiling the Origins and Making of Eye Black

The eye black tradition was started around the 1920s by the iconic Babe Ruth. He innovatively used a combination of burnt cork ashes and shoe polish as the very first version of eye black – now that is a testament to his sheer genius!

Evolving with time, today’s version of eye black comprises paraffin, beeswax, and carbon soot, all amalgamated to reduce the glare from lights and sun. A shift from the traditional greasy application has also been observed with the introduction of eye black stickers, providing an easy and residue-free alternative for athletes.

The Objective: More than Meets the Eye

The main purpose of putting on eye black, as many assume, is not to emit an intimidating look. The black grease or stickers under the eyes of a baseball player actually have a functional intent – improving their game performance by absorbing and reducing the high-intensity light glare, consequently enhancing the player’s capacity to track the ball.

But that’s not all. Eye black also serves as a psychological tool that enhances competitiveness and fortitude amongst players. However, the physical and psychological benefits majorly depend on individual players and various factors like the color of their eyes.

Reality Check – Is Eye Black Actually Effective?

The effectiveness of eye black has been the center of numerous debates and studies. The hit TV show “MythBusters” might have concluded that the glare reduction was marginal yet beneficial, but is that enough?

Research conducted by Yale University and the University of New Hampshire suggests that traditional eye black indeed aids in glare reduction and contrast sensitivity improvement, even though the extent of these benefits is considered to be relatively minor.

Interestingly, the studies also revealed that the traditional eye black grease works better than anti-glare stickers and petroleum jelly. How significantly these benefits affect on-the-field performance is still subject to further research.

Regardless of these ongoing debates, one thing remains certain — baseball players, like the legendary Babe Ruth, will continue to don the black streaks under their eyes. After all, the tradition of eye black in baseball isn’t just about the glare; it’s about the game.


⚾ What is eye black and why do baseball players wear it under their eyes?

Eye black is a dark, often black substance, that baseball players apply underneath their eyes. The main purpose of eye black is to absorb intrusive light more effectively than natural skin tone, thereby reducing the glare a player might experience from bright lights such as stadium lighting or direct sunlight. This glare can hinder a player’s depth perception and interfere with their ability to catch the ball as it travels through the air. Additionally, wearing eye black can also have a psychological effect, boosting a player’s sense of competitiveness and fortitude.

⚾ Who invented the concept of applying eye black and what is it made out of?

The trend of wearing eye black was popularized in the baseball world during the 1920s by the iconic player Babe Ruth. Ruth devised the early version of eye black by using grease made from burnt cork ashes and shoe polish. Today, modern versions of eye black are composed of beeswax, paraffin, and carbon soot. Additionally, there are eye black stickers available that offer an attractive option due to their easy application and minimal residue after removal. They are typically made of a patented fabric with adhesive properties.

⚾ Do the eye color and individual aspects of the player affect the effectiveness of eye black?

Yes, to a certain extent. While the physical benefits of wearing eye black, such as glare reduction and improved contrast sensitivity, can apply to a wide demographic of players, the extent of these benefits can depend on individual aspects such as a player’s eye color. The psychological benefits can also vary among individuals.

⚾ Does eye black truly have an effect on baseball players’ performance?

The tangible benefits of using eye black are a point of contention, with no definitive conclusion. The popular TV show “MythBusters” conducted an investigation into the effects of eye black in 2008 and found that, while the reduction of glare was minimal, it was still beneficial in distinguishing between light and dark. Several scholarly studies, including those performed by both Yale University and the University of New Hampshire, suggest that traditional eye black grease does indeed reduce glare and improve contrast sensitivity to some degree, albeit these effects are thought to be relatively minor. However, the extent to which these advantages improve a player’s on-the-field performance is still inconclusive and requires further research.

By Joseph Johnson

Joseph Johnson is the main writer on the site. He prepares up-to-date news and reviews on baseball.