MLB, union agree to phase in ban on chewing tobacco

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Babe Ruth selling chewing tobacco. Ruth, a lifelong chewer, died of throat cancer in his 50s.

As expected, Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association agreed to a ban on chewing tobacco in baseball, though it’s a bit of a wishy-washy ban because it only applies to incoming players. Basically, they’re going to phase it in.

This means expect to see chew around on the baseball field for the next 10 years, though you will gradually see less and less of it.

It’s a step in the right direction, I suppose, and perhaps the best that could be accomplished going up against a very powerful players’ union. Some tobacco control advocates likely won’t be that thrilled with it, but I would tell them, this is arguably the most powerful union in the country. Getting anything out of them is a win.

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Someone pointed out to me it’s very similar to how batting helmets were introduced into baseball. Existing players who didn’t like them didn’t have to wear them, but new players did (actually, hockey was the same way. You still saw a few old-timers not wearing helmets into the early 90s. The NHL finally made visors mandatory in 2013, but again, existing players who don’t want to wear them are grandfathered in, so you will slowly see visorless players disappear from the game.).

For Libertarians screaming “Freedom of choice!” think of it as a workplace ban. Name a workplace, any workplace, in which chewing tobacco is allowed in the building. Maybe warehouse workers, truck drivers and longshoreman can chew on the job. That’s about it. No one is telling ballplayers they can’t chew if they really want to deal with the gum disease and losing their teeth. They just can’t chew on the job, in the ballpark.

Chewing tobacco has been banned for years in the minor leagues and by the NCAA. In fact, according to this article, it’s not unheard of for players to be thrown out of NCAA games for chewing.

For some reason that no one can really explain, chewing tobacco is deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. According to this story, 47 percent of NCAA baseball players chew. 47 percent! Keep in mind less than 10 percent of adult males chew tobacco. It really is a baseball thing.

And dying of throat cancer is also a baseball thing — going all the way back to dipper Babe Ruth, who died of throat cancer.

The latest push to ban chew came after Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, a lifelong chewer, died in 2014 of salivary gland cancer. Gwynn advocated against chewing tobacco the last few months of his life, as has Curt Schilling (Yeah, I know he’s a butthead), who survived a pretty serious bout of oral cancer around the same time.

In addition to the MLB ban that will begin next year, several cities have banned chew in ballparks — Boston, New York, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco (Oakland and San Diego are included in a statewide ban, too, but this ban doesn’t really have an enforcement tool attached).

 

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