Well, I guess this was inevitable; though I was surprised to see it today. A new group has been formed, with snazzy website and everything to urge Major League Baseball to ban chew from clubhouses and playing fields. I’ll be keeping an eye on this site.
The group, called TobaccoFreeBaseball.org, the brainchild of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the more deliciously assertive groups out there fighting Big Tobacco. (The Forces.org types really hate Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Must mean they’re doing a good job. Anything that gets that crowd’s dander up is OK by me.)
Several news stories have examined the difficulty players and coaches have in breaking their addiction. Among those who have spoken about the challenge of quitting are Strasburg, American League Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton and Bruce Bochy, manager of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s recent cancer diagnosis and his public comments attributing his disease to years of chewing tobacco have underscored the health threat from smokeless tobacco.
Tobacco use was banned in baseball’s minor leagues in 1993. The NCAA and the National Hockey League have instituted prohibitions on tobacco use. Major League Baseball is lagging behind.
Meanwhile, smokeless tobacco use among high school boys is spiking – there has been a 36 percent increase since 2003 and 15 percent of high school boys currently use smokeless tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They also forgot Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who has tried to quit chew, but hasn’t been able to so far.
I read yesterday that Duke Snider died. I had heard of the name of course and knew he was part of Ebbetts Field lore back in Brooklyn, and he helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 and 1959. I’m sort of a stats geek, so I looked up his stats, and holy cats, he was a lot better player than I realized. He is mentioned a lot in books I’ve recently read about Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
One thing I am really struck by in looking at the statistics of old-time ballyplayers is the off-times dramatic dropoff in their numbers in their early to mid 30s. Not 40s. 30s. Duke Snider stopped being a full-time ballplayer at the age of 32. His last decent season was at the age of 34. He retired at 37. He only had 1,200 at-bats after the age of 32. Back then, before the days of off-season conditioning and arthroscopic surgery, injuries caught up with athletes awfully young, so what happened to Snider was typical — Mickey Mantle’s last good year was at the age of 32. Still, Snider managed to hit 407 home runs and drive in 1,333 runs.
Can you imagine what kind of numbers he would have ended up with if he could have kept playing — and playing regularly — into his late 30s and early 40s? It makes you really appreciate guys like Henry Aaron, who hit 40 home runs at the age of 39, Willie Mays, who hit 52 home runs at the age of 34 and Ted Williams, who hit .388 with 38 home runs … at the age of 38.
Duke Snider had a remarkable 9-year run in which he hit .301, and averaged 34.5 home runs, 108.5 RBIs and 107 runs a year — in a 154-game schedule. This was before the days of steroids, remember. I didn’t realize he was so good.
Well, this usually not a good thing when the U.S. Senate butts (hah, pun on a tobacco site) into something, but maybe this isn’t a bad thing, either.
Dick Durbin of Illinois and Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey both wrote Major League Baseball this week urging the league and the players’ union to work together to ban chewing tobacco in baseball. I wrote a few weeks ago about the effort to ban the use of chewing tobacco in MLB stadiums. Before you all start screaming, “Fascist” one me, it’s already banned in Minor League Baseball and has been for several years now. Last I checked, the Earth is still revolving around the Sun.
They point out that use of chewing tobacco has increased among high school boys by 36 percent since 2003:
The senators wrote:
“The use of smokeless tobacco by baseball players undermines the positive image of the sport and sends a dangerous message to young fans, who may be influenced by the players they look up to as role models.”
Hey, MLBers, kids really do copy more than just your batting stances. Seriously.
As recently as 1988, 39 percent of MLB players chewed tobacco (that number has to be lower now). There is some talk that a ban on chew in stadiums will be part of baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement.
Probably, I would’ve smirked at this a few years ago, a couple of U.S. Senators butting into a baseball issue, but then I remember everyone scoffed at Congress for holding hearings on steroids in baseball, and while it seemed like pretty pathetic empty theater at the time, those hearings actually ended up drawing a hell of a lot of attention toward steroids in baseball.