Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons talks about chewing tobacco and Tony Gwynn’s death

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John Gibbons, Associated Press photo

John Gibbons, a former Major League ballplayer and the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, gave an interview to the Toronto Star about why he quit chewing tobacco, saying he was motivated to quit chew after the death last year of Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer.

tony gwynn

The reporter, Brendan Kennedy, makes kind of a funny comment that he tried to interview Gibbons about giving up chew, but that “twice he blew me off. He wanted to make sure he had actually kicked it before he went public.”

From Kennedy’s article:

The turning point for Gibbons came last June when Tony Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer. The Hall of Famer was just 54 and had chewed tobacco throughout his 20-year career. Gibbons didn’t know Gwynn personally, but his death hit home. It was the last push he needed to “wise up” and get over the hump.

“It was something I needed to do,” Gibbons said. “It wasn’t something I was proud of, but you get addicted to it, you know? Like all addictions you wish you could stop, but it’s not that easy.”

Gibbons said he first started doing chew in high school. Here’s the interesting part of Kennedy’s pretty extensive article. A lot of smokers talk about how certain repeatable behaviours go into their habit, such as sitting down at a bar. They get so used to smoking at a bar, that years after they’ve quit, years after places have gone smokefree, when they sit at a bar, their first impulse is to reach into their pocket and grab their pack of cigarettes. According to Gibbons, chewing tobacco and walking out onto a baseball field are the same way:

Soon it became as routine as batting practice.

“It was almost like without it you felt naked on the field,” he said.

Gibbons’ wife and three children — aged 22, 20 and 15 — have been on him for years to quit, and his mother would regularly scold him.

“She said, ‘You’re stupid. You get a little enjoyment out of this, but it’ll cost you.’ Because she cleaned people’s teeth and she could see the pre-cancerous lesions and the receding gum lines and the stained teeth.”

But there was always something about stepping onto the fresh grass in spring training every year, Gibbons said. That’s when the temptation was greatest and his willpower faltered. “It’s sad to say, but for a long time in this game it went hand-in-hand with everything else.”

Gibbons’ advice for quitting chew? He doesn’t have any, because he failed several times before he finally successed. Here is his advice:

“Don’t start,” he said. “Then you won’t have to worry about it.”

Gibbons says he doesn’t miss it and he hopes tobacco use continues to decline in baseball.

“You hope for this generation that’s out there now that they’re smarter than we were.”

Public health groups have called for banning chew in Major League Baseball (on the field and dugouts). It is already banned in the Minor Leagues and by the NCAA. However, the players’ union would have to agree to a ban on the field. A ban is expected to be part of the latest collective bargaining negotiations.

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