Jim Caple, writer for ESPN and the Chicago Sun-Times both published editorials this week calling for baseball to ban chew in the wake of Tony Gwynn’s death from cancer. Gwynn, a lifelong chewer, died this week of salivary gland cancer (which originated in the cheek in which he always chewed and he blamed chewing for his cancer.). Gwynn was very outspoken in warning about the dangers of chew in the last couple years of his life.
Like smoking, chewing tobacco is a revolting, addictive and harmful habit. We are repeatedly warned against both; and yet, people still use both. I do not understand why somebody starts smoking — the warnings are so explicit and the cost of cigarettes is so high – but maybe it’s because his or her friends are doing it. That’s definitely the case with ballplayers and chewing. Players have been chewing in baseball since before there was organ music.
The only way to stop them from doing so is to ban it from the game.
Baseball already has banned chewing tobacco at the minor league level. There are restrictions on it at the major league level as well, but the players union has stubbornly resisted banning its use on the field. And as long as they can use it on the field, they will never stop chewing and spitting and risking their health.
Yes, ballplayers are adults with the same rights as everyone else, but they also are role models who already accept various limitations in exchange for the considerable financial rewards they receive. The use of tobacco in all forms on the field or anywhere in the stadium should be one of these limitations. Tobacco might be a legal substance for adults, but that shouldn’t stop baseball from banning it. Marijuana, for example, has been legalized in Washington and Colorado, but MLB does not allow players to use it when in Seattle or Denver — or anywhere else for that matter.
If amphetamines are banned, then why does MLB allow a substance with known carcinogens that provides players with a “buzz?” If we are so caught up with eliminating performance enhancing drugs from the game, we should be equally passionate about banning health-diminishing products as well.
Gwynn was a wonderful man. The best way to honor him is to eliminate the very thing that killed him. Let’s get rid of chewing tobacco so that no other player suffers and dies as Tony did.
The tobacco tin may be carefully stowed away, but when Major League Baseball players head out to the field there’s no mistaking a cheek bulging with chaw.
In honor of Tony Gwynn, it’s time to end the charade.
MLB players can honor Gwynn — a Hall-of-Fame baseball player and long-time snuff user who died Monday at age 54 after battling salivary gland cancer — by agreeing to ban all smokeless tobacco products on the field.
MLB currently requires players only to keep the tins out of sight during play and prohibits dipping or chewing during interviews.
What a joke.
To make a real impact — to set an example for the millions of kids and young adults who watch professional baseball and idolize ball players — the league should do everything it can to rid itself of this filthy and deadly habit.
But setting the tone from the top that chewing tobacco isn’t welcome on major league ball fields can send a powerful message.
Gwynn got the ball rolling by speaking honestly about what he believed caused his illness.
“Gwynn did something very important; he said early on in his diagnosis that he’d used chewing tobacco and was 99 percent sure that’s how he got it,” said Brian Hill, founder of the Oral Cancer Foundation and an oral cancer survivor. “He was very open about it.
“When our heroes show us they’re vulnerable,” Hill predicted, “they change the world.”
In Gwynn’s honor, we can only hope.
In addition, Dan Shaughnessy with the Boston Globe wrote a column about chew and Tony Gwynn’s death and get this “whistling past the graveyard” quote from Clay Buchholz:
“Cancer runs in my family,’’ said Buchholz, as he sat in front of his locker with a wad of smokeless tobacco wedged between his lower lip and gums. “There’s been people that have never smoked a cigarette or had a dip or chew and they’ve died of lung cancer.
Clay — 85 percent of the people who get lung cancer smoke or smoked. 75 percent of the people who get oral cancer either chew or smoke. So, keep whistling by that graveyard.
At least Dustin Pedroia was a little more contrite:
“I’m trying to stop,’’ said Pedroia. “It’s not a good habit. It’s one of those things, you try like heck. I wish I had never started.
“Everyone crushes me about it. You don’t want any kid to start doing it. Obviously, it’s addicting. It’s not good for you and can cause a lot of problems.
“You try the best you can to stop or not start it. It’s like any bad habit. People do things that aren’t good for you. A lot of things can hurt yourself, whether it’s drinking or tobacco. It’s hard to stop. I’ve stopped a few times and started back up. But I’ve cut back a lot.’’
Cleveland manager Terry Francona once made a high-profile bet to stop using chew. He couldn’t do it.
Former Sox manager Terry Francona keeps several canisters of his favorite chew (Lancaster) within reach whenever he is in uniform.
“It’s the weirdest thing with that,’’ Francona said last week at Fenway. “It’s only when I’m in uniform. The whole year I was out of the dugout, I never used it. Never felt like I wanted it. Never had an urge.
“It’s the same every offseason. I take the uniform off in October and I never think about it. But as soon as I get to spring training and get in uniform, I’m asking myself, ‘Where’s the chew?’ ’’
In 2009, Francona lost a $20,000 bet with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. The Sox boss (a two-time cancer survivor) wanted to see whether his manager could quit chewing, and Francona barely made it through the first month of the season. Sox players and coaches noted that their manager was unusually agitated.
“I couldn’t make it without the stuff,’’ said Francona. “Nobody wanted to be around me. My coaches and players were telling me to just pay up. Finally, I snapped at a NESN cameraman during a rain delay and I yelled for the clubbie to get me some [expletive] Lancaster.
“Later that day, I wrote a check for $20,000 to Children’s Hospital and I left Larry a phone message telling him that I lost.’’