Baseball stars who endorsed tobacco products — a lot of them died young

Roger Maris
Roger Maris died of cancer at 50

Again, another idea from Haruko.

She showed me an ad with Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams advertising cigarettes and I got the bright idea to see how many ads there had been with baseball stars hawking tobacco products.

And when I looked, I said, “WHOA!”

I found dozens upon dozens upon dozens of ads going all the way back to the early 1900s. I was really shocked. I had never seen these ads before. I knew full well that tobacco companies had used many, many movie stars over the years to sell cigarettes, but I wasn’t aware of all the baseball ads.

The first ad that popped up hit me like a ton of bricks — Roger Maris. Roger Maris, as we all know, smoked five packs a day to deal with the stress of going after Babe Ruth’s home run record. He also died at the age of 50 from cancer. (Strangely enough, his family has always been fiercely private about what exactly Maris died of. There’s been varying reports that he died either of head and neck cancer, lung cancer, lymph gland cancer or lymphoma; I’ve found articles saying all four. The family has always been reticent to discuss it and the story seems to have changed at times about what exact kind of cancer he had. All I can think of is they don’t want people saying, “Well, Maris did it to himself.” Anyway, I digress. He died of cancer. At the age of 50.)

Maris also had a fairly short career. He was basically done at 30 and completely out of baseball at 33. I’ve always wondered if his heavy smoking habit helped break his body down so quickly. It definitely couldn’t have helped.

Babe Ruth died of throat cancer at 53
Babe Ruth died of throat cancer at 53

Another ad that jumped out of me was Babe Ruth endorsing Old Gold. He was a smoker and chewer who died of throat cancer at 53. There’s more. DiMaggio was in a ton of cigarette ads. And while he lived into his 80s, he died of lung disease (likely COPD). Another one that jumped out at me — Jackie Robinson, who died at 52 of diabetes (and it’s known today, not then, that smoking is a risk factor for diabetes).

Another tobacco ad featured Harry Heilmann, a very good hitter in the 1920s. He died of lung cancer at the age of 56. Another chew ad featured Nellie Fox, a Hall of Famer who died at 47 of melanoma.

Anyway, here is a slideshow of these old baseball tobacco ads:

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4 thoughts on “Baseball stars who endorsed tobacco products — a lot of them died young”

  1. Wow! So many pointless deaths. And not easy deaths either, throat cancer and COPD and the like. Our old family doctor smoked and he died of lung cancer. What a waste.

  2. Great stuff as always. Another notable casualty would be Gil Hodges. Died at 48 from a heart attack. Big time smoker most of his adult life. BTW, Nellie Fox played in the first game I ever saw and we kids always wondered how such a little guy could hold such a big chaw.

    1. Hey, Steve, I’ve also always wondered if Maris broke down so quickly, pretty much done at 30, and out of baseball by the time he was 33, because his body broke down from the heavy smoking.

  3. Oh, one more thing…the last player to endorse tobacco in uniform was a guy named George Washington Case, who was a pretty good player for the Senators in the late 30s and 40s. Camels. His deal was that he got a thousand dollars and a carton of Camels a week for a year. Fans razzed him around the league and he ended up going into the stands after some of them one day. He was the premier base stealer of the era, and MLB took off the ads fearing it would be a bad influence on kids. “Oh he can run like the wind and he smokes!” type of thing.

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