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Behind the Black Smudges: The Science and Tradition of Eye Black in Baseball

Eye Black in Baseball

Baseball players are famous for their iconic look – a uniform, a cap, and black smudges under their eyes. These black smudges are called “eye black” and have become a staple in the sport.

But what makes eye black so essential for baseball players? Let’s explore the definition, composition, scientific aspect, effectiveness, and tradition associated with eye black in baseball.


Eye black, simply put, is the black paint or stickers that players apply under their eyes to reduce glare and improve their vision on the field. It is believed that eye black provides a shadow that absorbs light and reduces the glare from the sun or stadium lights.

Eye black is a cosmetic product that goes beyond its functionality – it’s a psychological boost that players believe gives them an advantage over their opponents.


There are various ways to produce eye black. The most common way is by mixing beeswax, paraffin, and carbon soot.

The resulting paste is then applied to the skin in the shape of a smudge. Eye black stickers are another alternative, preferred by those who don’t want to deal with the mess of the paste.

Eye black stickers are not as effective as the traditional paste and can rub off during the game. However, they are a great choice for younger players or those with sensitive skin.

Scientific Aspect

The scientific side of eye black in baseball is based on how it affects a player’s perception of depth, focus, and aim. Research has indicated that eye black can improve a player’s ability to track a ball against a bright background.

The dark under-eye smudges can help reduce the glare of sunlight, stadium lights, and television cameras. Studies show that the improved contrast of the ball makes it more comfortable to track, enabling the player to focus the hit on the ball.


Despite the tradition and belief in eye black’s effectiveness, there have been debates on its scientific relevance. In an episode of Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman tested whether eye black increased a player’s ability to see in high-glare conditions.

The experiment compared a player with eye black to one without eye black. The results showed that eye black did, in fact, work to some extent, but not as much as claimed by some baseball players and manufacturers.

However, it’s worth noting that psychological factors play a major role in sports, and if a player believes that eye black helps him or her perform better, it works for them. The psychological advantage of eye black is indeed its strength.


Eye black is not a new phenomenon in baseball. Players have been using it for over half a century.

The ritual of applying eye black is a sign of team camaraderie – a shared belief and practice. Players believe that eye black increases their confidence and gives them an edge over their opponents.

The black smudges under the eyes have become iconic in the sport – it’s a part of baseball’s history and tradition.

Historical Use of Dark Glasses

Early Use

Hines eyewear was founded in 1882 and is the oldest American eyewear company. In the early days of Hines, they developed lenses specifically for baseball, tennis, and boating.

The lenses were designed to protect players’ eyes from the sun and improve their visibility on the field. The practice of using dark glasses or tinted lenses in sports has evolved since then.

Sunglass Trends in Baseball

Sunglasses are now a standard part of baseball uniforms. Players wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from UV rays and glare while playing.

They are no longer a new trend but have become a necessity for players. The trend of sunglasses in baseball is not limited to protection.

They are also a fashion statement, with players sporting different styles, shapes, and brands to suit their style. Some top players have even collaborated with prominent eyewear companies to create their signature sunglass lines.


Eye black and sunglasses are two aspects of baseball that are not only functional but also trendy. They are a part of baseball culture that both players and fans love and cherish.

Whether it’s the traditional smudges under the eyes or the sleek, cutting-edge sunglasses, they both improve a player’s performance and their overall appearance. Baseball has come a long way since the Hines lenses, but one thing remains constant – the need for sun protection and clear vision on the field.

3) Controversy and

Banning of Messages

Eye black has been used in baseball for decades, not only for its functional benefits but also as a way for players to express themselves. In recent years, players have begun to use eye black as a canvas to write messages, slogans, or even quotes on their faces.

Terrelle Pryor and Zac Robinson were some of the first players to use eye black to convey messages, paving the way for future players to express themselves in this manner. However, the practice of writing on eye black has also caused controversy and has led to bans on certain messages.

Writing on Eye Black

The trend of writing messages on eye black began to gain popularity in college football, where players started using it to write their teammates’ names, Jersey numbers, and slogans. Terrelle Pryor, then a quarterback at Ohio State, was the first to use eye black to write a message during a game.

In 2009, Pryor wrote “Vick” on his eye black in support of Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback who had recently been released from prison. Soon after, Zac Robinson from Oklahoma State wrote “T Boone Pickens,” a reference to the team’s biggest benefactor, on his eye black.

The trend picked up quickly, and players started using eye black to write messages supporting causes, people, or events.

Banning of Messages

While using eye black to write messages seems harmless, it has caused controversy. The NCAA, the governing body for college sports in the United States, banned messages on eye black in 2010, citing concerns about promoting personal messages that could offend opponents, referees, or fans.

The NFL also bans messages on eye black, but players are allowed to wear preapproved phrases for breast cancer awareness during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Insulting messages, political messages, or commercial messages are prohibited under NCAA rules.

In 2012, when Western Michigan’s John Potter wrote an expletive followed by “EMU,” the Eastern Michigan football team, on his eye black during a game, the school and the conference banned the player from participating in any further games that season as penance.

4) Overall Importance of Eye Black

Eye black remains an essential aspect of the baseball uniform, and its use goes beyond its functional purpose. Many players believe it provides psychological strength, helping them focus and giving them a boost of confidence.

Eye black has become part of baseball culture, steeped in tradition and personal preferences.

Tradition and Preferences

Eye black’s role in baseball tradition dates back to the game’s early days when players would use burnt cork or grease to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare. The most critical function of eye black remains glare reduction, but players take it further, using it to show their support for their team.

Players even develop preferences in terms of how they apply eye black. Some prefer smudging the paste with their fingers, while others use a straight line or diagonal stroke.

Psychological Impact

Eye black’s role goes beyond its functional benefits. Studies show that looking intense or aggressive could enable players to perform better, and eye black helps create that feeling.

Players believe that eye black gives them an advantage, even though scientific evidence suggests it may only be a placebo effect. Eye black’s psychological boost goes beyond giving players a boost of confidence on the field.

It creates a culture of unity among the team, with players following a shared practice with a history steeped in tradition.


Eye black’s importance continues to evolve with time. From glare reduction to customization and personalized messaging, eye black remains an essential aspect of baseball culture.

Its psychological benefits cannot be overlooked, as players perceive it to provide an edge. Whether eye black’s functional benefits apply or not is debatable, but the tradition and personal preferences remain embedded in the baseball tradition.

While the trend of writing messages on eye black might have garnered a degree of controversy and led to NCAA and NFL banning regulations, the use of eye black remains a crucial piece of baseball uniform and culture. In summary, eye black is an iconic part of baseball culture that has both functional and psychological benefits.

The black paint or stickers provide glare reduction, increased contrast of the ball, and psychological boost, improving players’ focus and confidence. Eye black’s tradition and personal preferences make it an essential aspect of baseball culture, but the trend of writing messages on it has caused controversy and regulation.

The NCAA and NFL ban insulting, commercial, or political messages from eye black. Despite the controversy, eye black remains a vital part of baseball culture and history.


Q: Why do baseball players wear eye black? A: Baseball players wear eye black to reduce glare from sunlight or stadium lights, improve contrast, and create a psychological boost.

Q: Can eye black improve performance scientifically? A: Studies show that eye black’s functionality is debatable, but it provides a placebo effect that creates a psychological advantage for the players.

Q: Are players allowed to write messages on eye black? A: The NCAA and NFL prohibit insulting, political, or commercial messages on eye black.

Q: What is the history of eye black in baseball? A: Eye black has a long history in baseball, dating back to the early days of the game when players used burnt cork or grease to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare.

Q: What is the psychological impact of using eye black? A: Players believe that eye black provides them with an advantage and helps them focus, making them feel intense and aggressive on the field.

Final Thought: Whether it’s traditional smudges under the eyes or personalized messages on eye black, the use of this cosmetic product is a crucial part of baseball culture and history. It remains an iconic feature of the sport, giving players a psychological edge and unifying them as a team.

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