New York Times takes on chewing tobacco in baseball

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I’ve written extensively about this in the past year — about the push to get chew out of baseball. The New York Times just published a story about, joining other major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times in exploring the stubborn tradition of chewing tobacco in baseball.

Chewing tobacco is for whatever reason deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. Baseball player chew at a much higher rate than the general population. According to the Professional Baseball Trainers Association, one-third of ballplayers chew tobacco, down from about half a few years ago. However, that’s still considerably higher than the general population of adult men, of which only about 6 percent chew. (Virtually no women chew for whatever reason, probably because it’s so gross.).

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AP photo

Tony Gwynn’s death last year of salivary gland cancer and Curt Schilling’s battle with oral cancer have sparked the most recent debate about chew in baseball. Chew is already banned on the field and in the dugouts in the NCAA and Minor League Baseball. San Francisco banned all tobacco chewing in AT&T Park (even including players and coaches) beginning next year and a bill has been introduced in the California State Assembly to ban chewing tobacco in all ballparks in California (this would affect the A’s, Dodgers, Padres and Angels, as well as visiting teams). We’re talking chew on the field or in the dugout; they can’t ban players from chewing on their own time.

Though chew has been banned in the Minor Leagues and NCAA for many years now, it’s still allowed in Major League Baseball (Though, get this, players are banned from chewing tobacco while conducting television interviews.). It would take an agreement with the Player’s Association through the collective bargaining process to get chew off the field and the dugouts.

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Getty image

The New York Times went to San Francisco to talk to Giants’ players and coaches. Pitcher Jake Peavey said players won’t be able to stop chewing because it’s so addictive and will probably have to pay a lot of fines. Madison Bumgarner, who earlier came out in favour of the law, is a “dipper” and he said he could quit. Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia chews and said he would follow the law and not chew while playing in San Francisco (or California if the state passes a law.).

From the article:

Andrew Susac, the Giants’ backup catcher, receives emails from his mother relaying horror stories about people who have had parts of their jaw removed because of the effects of tobacco use. Susac tried gum and sunflower seeds as alternatives, but they did not suffice, he said. He tried a nontobacco imitation, but that did not work, either. He tried using pouches of coffee grinds, but they made him jittery.

Susac guessed that he dipped five times a day during the season, including in the morning, after lunch, on the bench during a game, and on his ride home. At another point during the day, whenever he gets an urge, he dips once more.

“Half the time I do it, I don’t have a real reason to,” Susac said. “It’s part of the game, I feel like. You come to the field, get bored or whatever, and just throw in a dip.”

One of the San Francisco County Supervisors who passed the ordinance, Mark Farrell, said he has actually seen youth coaches chewing tobacco in front of players.

From the article:

Mark Farrell, the member of the Board of Supervisors who sponsored the ordinance, started using tobacco while he played college baseball at Loyola Marymount. In his freshman year, he said, he was one of only two players on the team who did not. He kept the habit through law school and has since quit. But now, raising two boys, he has seen youth coaches using tobacco in front of children.

“This almost becomes a self-enforcing mechanism, just by passing this,” Farrell said. “Coaches don’t want to be out on our park fields proactively breaking the law in front of parents. Players don’t want to be on the field, on television, blatantly breaking the law.”

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