A second, more high-profile player has announced he is quitting chew because of the death from cancer of Tony Gwynn. Stephen Strasburg, star pitcher for the Washington Nationals announced this week he is also quitting chew.
Tony Gwynn, a lifelong chewer, died last week of salivary gland cancer, which prompted the call from numerous people for MLB to ban chewing tobacco on the field. Chew on the field is banned in college and the minor leagues, but the Players’ Association won’t allow MLB to ban it at the highest level. For some mystifying reason that I don’t understand, chew seems to be a big part of baseball culture.
Gwynn, who was only 54 when he died, blamed his chewing on his cancer (the cancer showed up on the same side of the mouth as where he always chewed). Strasburg (like Addison Reed, who also announced this week he will quit chew) played for Tony Gwynn when he was a star at San Diego State University.
According to MLB:
“I think it’s a disgusting habit, looking back on it,” the Nationals right-hander said on Monday. “I was pretty naive when I started. Just doing it here and there, I didn’t think it was going to be such an addiction. … Bottom line is, I want to be around for my family. This is something that can affect people the rest of your life. [Chewing tobacco is] so prevalent in this game. It’s something we all kind of grew up doing.”
Congrats to Stephen and I wish him luck in quitting.
I was pleasantly surprised to watch this 5-minute, emotional rant from Keith Olbermann on his ESPN show calling for an end to chewing tobacco on the field of baseball. I was surprised that this was something Olbermann felt so strongly about (and it really made me miss him from his MSNBC days — this is what Keith should be doing, not sports highlights).
Olbermann, who broke down crying talking about Tony Gwynn earlier in the week, takes on the MLB Players’ Association for refusing to budge on chewing tobacco (“they are completely, utterly, indefensibly wrong,” Olbermann said.) BTW, MLB actually wants to ban it. He also takes on denialists who claim that Gwynn’s cancer had nothing to do with his chewing. (I saw one of these denialists ranting online last week myself, quoting some sketchy medical group that turns out is consistently pro-industry and pro-corporation.)
And this earlier piece by Olbermann, remembering Tony Gwynn. Hopefully, YouTube doesn’t take these videos down, but they might:
Anyway, it’s a pretty devastating coincidence that the salivary gland cancer formed in the cheek where Gwynn always put in his chew for 30 years). Like Olbermann points out, doctors 50 years ago insisted there was no link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer.
OK, this is a struggle to transcribe this, but here is the best part of his rant, taking on the denialists:
“So one of the holier-than-thou medical groups can’t whine that we’re using scare tactics, let’s just assume that Tony Gwynn did not die by using chewing tobacco on the right side of his mouth and that the cancer of the salivary glands … on the right side of his mouth … was just a coincidence, and the cancer was caused by one of the ‘recognized’ risk factors like exposure to extreme radiation or working in asbestos mining, because we all remember those seasons Tony Gwynn skipped baseball to go work mining asbestos … with the right side of his mouth.”
Olbermann details the sordid history of tobacco advertising and sports, including baseball, and the more recent history of chewing tobacco advertising and sports. He also talks about how 40 years ago, baseball banned cigarette smoking on the field, but continues to lag on chew.
Part of the reason Olbermann feels so strongly about chew is years ago, he used to smoke pipes and cigars, believing that he it was safer than smoking cigarettes — that was until doctors found a growth in the roof of his mouth that had to be removed by a laser.
“I get it, I’ve been ‘it,’ ” Olbermann said, in response to people struggling to quit tobacco.
“Get it off the field. Cheat if you must in the clubhouses. Get it off the field. Get it off the field now. Get it off the field tomorrow. Get it off the field for Tony Gwynn.”
After the news that Tony Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Addison Reed announced he is quitting chewing tobacco.
Reed, who played for Gwynn at San Diego State, said he threw away seven cans of chew out of his locked and two more out of his car after he learned of Gwynn’s death.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve done it for so long it’s just become a habit, a really bad habit,” Reed said Saturday. “It was something I always told myself I would quit, like next month, and the next thing you know it’s been six or seven years.”
Reed said he began chewing as a junior in high school. But, he started chewing in earnest when he became a professional ballplayer.
“It started to get bad my first year in pro ball and it’s one of those things where I’ve always done it,” Reed said. “I’d come to the field and throw one in and have multiple ones. I’d have one on the ride home, one on the way to the field and it was one of those things where I always had one with me.”
Let’s hope a bunch more ballplayers follow Reed’s lead. Chew is a bizarre habit that for some mysterious reason has somehow become deeply ingrained in the culture of baseball and it’s time to break that culture. Chew is already banned on the field in college baseball and minor league baseball, but the Player’s Association is resisting calls to ban it on the field in MLB.
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.’’
Former Major League star Tony Gwynn died today of oral cancer at the age of 54. Sad, sad, sad, still a young man, an incredible, underrated hitter (underrated because he played for the San Diego Padres).
Several months ago, I wrote about Tony’s battle with cancer and how he blamed his years of chewing tobacco for his cancer. He had been fighting oral cancer off and on since 2010 after 30 years or so of chewing tobacco.
All I can do is quote this outstanding blog piece by Gabe Costa:
As a baseball player myself, I can say that I have tried chewing tobacco. While it made me sick to my stomach, for other young ball players it is as a part of the game as it was for Gwynn. Whether, it is peer pressure or the mystique that “the big leaguers do it”, I have witnessed kids all from ages 14 and up throw in a “dip” while playing baseball. Recently, organized baseball has started taking a stand against the use of chewing tobacco. Currently, chewing tobacco is banned in NCAA baseball as well as the U.S. minor leagues. At the heart of these bans lies the proven danger that tobacco creates for the body. While the biological correlations between cancer and tobacco are outside the scope of this article, one cannot deny that there is a link between repeated tobacco use and cancer and other serious health issues.
For Tony Gwynn, his repeated use of chewing tobacco during his twenty year career has caused his recent struggles with mouth cancer. Starting in 2010, Gwynn has fought multiple bouts with oral cancer. In addition to weeks and weeks of radiation therapy Gwynn had multiple tumor removing surgeries that left the right side of his face motionless. Unfortunately, his cancer has returned once again. Despite his previous successful surgeries, Gwynn will once again enter the operating room to remove another cancerous tumor from his mouth. As a lifelong Padres fan, Gwynn has always been a symbol of success for the San Diego area. As the current coach of the San Diego State Aztecs, he will once again have to place baseball aside to focus on a fight with this dreaded disease. Gwynn in recent years, even despite his physical and mental pain, has taken his experiences in baseball and his addiction to chewing tobacco and decided to push for a change in Major League Baseball. With the help of many well known ex-baseball players, the discussion is now open on whether to ban chewing tobacco or not throughout Major League Baseball. Yet, despite the new found movement to end the use of tobacco in Major League Baseball, the players union has stood firm to their position of protecting a player’s right to chew tobacco.
I couldn’t have written it any better.
It’s a tragedy, still a young man, a legendary talent (he hit an incredible .338 for his career, hit over .350 seven times, hit an unbelievable .394 one year, won 8 batting titles and did this while playing much of his career 20 to 30 pounds overweight — he was not the world’s best athlete). After retirement, he went on to become the head coach at San Diego State University. Tony tried to get the word out about the dangers of chew; it was too late for him, but not for others. Baseball has banned chew at the minor league level, but refuses to do it at the Major League level (and yet they have banned smoking cigarettes in dugouts, go figure. That’s just how weirdly ingrained chew is in the baseball culture). You can’t stop guys from chewing if they really want to, but every chewer needs to be reminded of the story of Tony Gwynn.