Whether it’s baseball season or not, the classic Big League Chew bubble gum remains popular as new generations discover this unique product. Although the traditional pink, original-flavored bubble gum expanded into a variety of colors and flavors (chocolaty candy bar, sour cherry, strawberry, grape, sour apple, watermelon, and cotton candy), its iconic shredded texture and foil pouch packaging stay recognizable across generations and around the world.
The concept of Big League Chew began in the Portland Maverick’s bullpen in the 1970s. The Portland Mavericks were a new independent team in the Class A Northwest League created by Bing Russell, an actor in the hit TV series Bonanza and father to actor Kurt Russell. Left-handed pitcher Rob Nelson noticed teammate Todd Field “chewing” shredded black licorice as a healthy substitute for tobacco, and he instantly got the idea of shredding gum instead. Nelson approached teammate Jim Bouton for help in developing the gum. Bouton brainstormed the name of Big League Chew, financed the initial operation, and eventually pitched it to the Wrigley Company, owner of the Chicago Cubs. The teammates hired MAD magazine artist Bill Mayer to design the final packaging.
A secret formula keeps Big League Chew’s shredded gum from sticking together in the pouch, allowing customers to dip into any amount desired. This ingenuity didn’t happen overnight. In early 1979, Nelson ordered a gum-making machine from a magazine and attempted his first batch of licorice-flavored brown gum in Field’s kitchen in Southeast Portland. Nelson became the new pitching coach for Portland State University and tested batches of his homemade gum to his players who were not fans of it. He continued experimenting while Bouton sketched pouch designs. Nelson hired an art studio in Portland to render Bouton’s drawings into a professional sample to show Amurol, a subsidiary of Wrigley. Amurol’s President tested about 20 Big League Chew pouches at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Naperville, Illinois and they sold out immediately.
After months of tweaking the gum’s colors, flavors and packaging, former teammates and new business partners introduced Big League Chew in May 1980. Over the decades, Big League Chew fans rave that this particular gum continues its use as a healthy alternative to tobacco. For others, it’s a fun, flavorful, storable chewing gum.
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