Why do baseball players wear eye black ? When we watch a sports match, it is common to see the athletes with a black, horizontal line painted underneath each of their eyes. Many of us have grown up seeing players with these stripes but have not questioned their significance in the game or why people have them. Although not conclusively proven, it is a hypothesis that using eye black can help a player track the ball in the air easier.
The Theory Behind Using Eye Black
Black and white are not technically colors, as they are shades. When we see a white object, it is a combination of all the different wavelengths of colors reflecting on it. Black is the opposite; it is what we see when no light reflects on an object.
When a player is running across a field, there are many bright lights pointed in their direction, from the stadium lighting to the direct sunlight. This light can impede their depth perception and ability to catch the ball as it flies through the air. The eye black has the purpose of absorbing the interfering light better than the natural skin tone can, reducing the glare for the player.
What is Eye Black Made Of?
One of the earliest recorded instances of eye black was when Babe Ruth used grease, which many players copied in later years. This grease consisted of burnt cork ashes and shoe polish, both of which could be easily attained. Modern eye black grease contains beeswax, paraffin, and carbon soot.
Later, players began using eye black stickers. These became popular because they were easy to apply, and they did not leave much residue when players remove them at the end of a game. These stickers are usually made of patented fabric with an adhesive.
The Benefits of Using Eye Black
Babe Ruth, a successful baseball player in the early 1920s, popularized the trend of wearing black strips across his face. When other players caught on, they sometimes did it simply because it gave them a psychological advantage and enhanced the feeling of competitiveness.
Does Eye Black Work?
Experts in the field disagree about the quantifiable benefits of using eye black. Some think that the reduction of glare is significant, but it depends on the players’ eye color. Others insist that the traditional eye black grease is more effective than the new anti-glare stickers but there are few studies to back up the claim.
The hit TV show, MythBusters, tackled the question in an episode aired in 2008. The showrunners determined that while the reduction of glare was minimal, the black stripes were helpful while distinguishing between light and dark, e.g., when a dark ball was being thrown at them through the light sky.
Many players continue to draw the stripes across their faces with the mentality of keeping with tradition. For some, playing without the eye black may make them feel more vulnerable, and put them off their game.
Where Did the Eye Black Come From?
It is widely believed that the first athlete to sport the eye black was Babe Ruth, who started painting black strips underneath his eye in 1930. Ruth began using eye black in order to reduce sun glare, which is common for all baseball players to experience since they are playing in an open field. As Babe Ruth was one of the most popular baseball players during the 1930s, many fans and players started applying eye black on their faces as well.
While the eye black has been prominent in baseball throughout the 1930s, the trend of wearing it in American football, where it became more common among players in today’s era, only started when fullback Andrew Geza Farkas wore it as far back as 1942, thus making him the first American football player to sport the eye black. According to Farkas, the eye black that he wore during games was made from the ashes of burned cork instead of paint.
Benefits of Wearing Eye Black
Many athletes have given several explanations as to why they find eye black advantageous in playing at their best potential. However, further concrete studies are needed in order to validate the claims of the players that eye black enhances the way they play their respective sports. Even though there is a lack of evidence that supports the claim that eye black is beneficial or effective, more and more players in various sports are still wearing it. According to those players, here are the benefits of wearing eye black.
Reduces Sun Glare
One of the most well-known reasons why players wear eye black, and also the reason why it was invented, was to reduce the sun glare that would often occur when the skin or sweat from the cheeks reflects the sunlight towards the eyes. In science, it is known that the color black absorbs all light, so it wouldn’t reflect any color or sunlight. As such, painting your cheeks or the skin below your eye with black paint or chalk will reduce the amount of glare that your eye receives from the rays of the sun.
Have Better Vision
Since the eye black can reduce sun glare, the players that wear it will have a better vision that will allow them to have an easier time spotting balls, teammates, opponents, and the entire field or arena. Vision is arguably one of the most crucial senses used in sports, so having a clearer view of everything will enhance your experience in playing your preferred sport.
Have Better Focus
It is regarded by many players that eye black can help you have a better focus on what’s in front of you, as the black paint obscures what you would usually see at the lower section of your vision. While the eye black does give you a little bit of “tunnel vision,” it will force you to focus on the center of your vision, which may be helpful for some players that have trouble focusing on the ball or the opponent.
How Do You Apply Eye Black?
There are two easy ways to apply eye black. The first method is by applying it using a stick, and many brands are selling “eye black sticks” in sporting goods stores online or near you. The second method is by applying a black sticker on your cheeks, which is a better choice if you don’t want to wash off black paint on your face since stickers can be taken off easily. Here are step-by-step guides to know more about how to apply eye black using the two mentioned methods.
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