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Cigar Culture

Baseball & Cigar Smoking History

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

I remember when rock was young, so I’m clearly old enough to remember when you could go to a baseball game and light up a cigar. The last time I did that was on most Sundays at Wrigley Field in 1987. My then-girlfriend would have to work and I would stroll the few blocks to the ticket window and buy the best seat available. Usually it was a box seat that had been returned. I’d get there early with a copy of the Sunday paper and set ablaze a large Padrón cigar, something like today’s Padrón Churchill, 6.875 x 46, less than $7.00, and watch batting practice. I’d be about half through the cigar by the time the game started. Remember, only day games back then at Cubs park. Nobody ever told me to put it out and quite a few fans had their own sticks going. Those days are long gone, at least being able to smoke in the stands.

A NATURAL FIT

Who was it that said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us?” Was it Walt Whitman, who did a stint as a baseball reporter, or Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham? (The answer is: both. Kevin Costner’s character was quoting Whitman.) There’s a lot of truth about cigars in the “It will repair our losses” part of that. If you love baseball and you love cigars, they truly complement one another. A cigar will last a long time and a baseball game even longer these days, but a great cigar fills the gaps that occur in the game. You just have to watch the game on TV if you’re going to pair it with a cigar.

THE SULTAN OF WHAT?

Clearly, the greatest player who smoked cigars is the greatest player ever in the minds of many, Babe Ruth. Ruth, who clearly had an oral fixation, not only smoked cigars, he knew how to roll them, having learned the craft (and how to make shirts) at an early age in reform school in Baltimore. Ruth, it’s told, would occasionally carry a cigar to the plate to take his turn at bat. What’s clear is that he smoked whenever he could and that was pretty much always. Who was going to tell the great man he couldn’t?

In the book, One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson, the story is shared of Ruth’s giant appetite for, well, just about everything. He often smoked while engaging in other pursuits. “A teammate named Larry Gardner,” Bryson wrote, “recalled walking into a room and finding Ruth on the floor having sex with a prostitute. He was smoking a cigar and eating peanuts and this woman was working on him.” A similar story is told by a former roommate, pitcher Ernie Shore.

Ruth, it’s recounted in Cigar Aficionado, once smuggled a woman into the hotel room during a road trip. Shore couldn’t sleep because of the “romantic” noises. Shore finally snoozed as the sun was rising. When he woke up, Shore noticed the woman was gone and Ruth was sleeping. Shore also noticed “four or five cigar butts next to the bed.” When Shore asked Ruth about that, the Bambino reportedly smiled and replied, “Oh, that! I like a cigar every time I’m finished.”

Ruth had a cigar named after him from which he made some money, and he endorsed White Owl cigars, but apparently preferred his smokes much larger. He would smoke four or five an evening, usually “a long 60-cent cigar” remembered teammate Waite Hoyt. Ruth took trips to Cuba for exhibition games and would bring back larger Cuban cigars. The tale is told that he was upset about his trade from the Red Sox to the Yankees because he was fond of a cigar made in Boston.

PLAYERS & MANAGERS

Lou Gehrig enjoyed cigars. So did Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Maris. David “Big Papi” Ortiz has his own line of cigars today. Former Indians and Red Sox great Luis Tiant does too. Tiant smoked giant cigars during his playing days. Sammy Sosa reportedly loved the Fuente Fuente Opus X (um, who doesn’t?) and when that got out, Carlito Fuente made baseball-bat-shaped cigars for Sosa.

Jack McKeon, the legendary Marlins manager who took the team to a World Series championship in 2003, loved the Padrón 1964 Anniversary line. He and Orlando Padrón became good friends. Joe Torre was fond of the same cigars and loved smoking in his office at Yankee Stadium where he could enjoy a cigar undisturbed.

OLD CIGAR BOXES & BASEBALL CARDS

In the 1800s and just into the 1900s, many cigar boxes featured baseball players on them. Most of the brands had generic photos of players, but some had real ones. Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Al Simmons, Frank Baker, Hans (Honus?) Wagner, Joe Tinker (as in Tinker, to Evers, to Chance), Mordecai Brown and others were featured. As recently as 1964, Phillies Cigars featured several players in ads asking, “Can you identify these great ballplayers? They all enjoy the good taste of a Phillies cigar.” Willie Mays and Yogi Berra top the page of photos.

In the 1930s, the Worch Cigar Company of Minnesota put out a set of 167 baseball cards that did not actually feature the company’s product. The postcard-sized cards featuring Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Bill Dickey, Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, Rogers Hornsby, Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott and others would be mailed to those who purchased cigars. The photos of the players were lifted from Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers.

WHAT TO SMOKE DURING A GAME

The average time of a baseball game so far this season is just about 3 hours and 1 minute. (Where’s that pitch clock again?) Assuming you watch the whole game, you’re likely to need more than one cigar to cover it all. Unless, that is, you have a bunch of ‘A’ sizes around. I’d recommend picking out three of your favorites. I usually go with nothing larger than a Churchill, but am also fond of Toros here.

STARTER

My starter for this adventure is a La Aroma de Cuba Churchill, 7 x 50, $6.70. It’s a medium-strength cigar that should last you an hour and then some. So, about three innings. It’s Nicaraguan with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. What really come through are the cedar and earth notes, followed by brown sugar and nuts. You finish with a little bit of spice. This gives you a good foundation to continue.

MIDDLE RELIEF

I’m gonna follow this up with a medium-full Padrón from the original Nicaraguan line. As I mentioned, I used to like and would still choose the #4000, 6.5 x 54, at about $8.00, but you can go much bigger with the Magnum Natural or Maduro, 9 x 49, at a little more than $10. The Magnum is likely to get you close to the end of the game. In any case, what I notice most in the smoke is the cocoa that comes through.

CLOSER

My closing cigar is going to be a full-bodied one and there are many options here. My choice is the Oliva Serie V, either the Double Robusto, 5 x 54, about $8.75, if the game is in the seventh inning. If the game is slower, I’d go with the Churchill Extra, 7 x 52, a bit over $11.00. The Oliva Serie V is made with Nicaraguan filler inside an Ecuador Habano wrapper. It is a balanced, strong cigar with creaminess and chocolate notes with a lot of earth and leather coming through. This is a fairly complex cigar, but it is not a sledgehammer. It’s a great third cigar.

EXTRA INNINGS

I usually comment on a game that goes beyond nine innings by calling it “free baseball.” Still, it’s hard to imagine smoking a fourth cigar when the game could be over very quickly. If you want to go there, however, I recommend one of two relatively shorter sticks. The first is the La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chiselito, 5 x 44, about $8.00. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase “Double Ligero,” it means freaking strong. A lot of coffee and wood notes bound in an Ecuador wrapper.

If that’s a bit too much power, go with the Ashton VSG Tres Mystique, 4.375 x 44, about $10.50. I love the Ecuador Sumatra wrapper here. This is a dark, oily outer leaf that contains bold Dominican fillers that deliver a lot of spice.

That’s a lot of baseball and a lot of cigars. If you get tired, just think of The Babe.

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