10 national health agencies, including the American Heart Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and American Cancer Society, this week sent a letter to MLB asking that baseball ban chewing tobacco by players. This could conceivably be done via a collective bargaining agreement. Even Congress got involved several months ago, asking MLB to drop chewing tobacco.
OK, before you throw a conniption fit over the legality of this, remember, chewing tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues since 1993. Most colleges ban it by their players. What’s being asked is that that minor league ban be extended to the majors.
I get smoking, but I truly don’t get chewing. I really. I mean it is flat disgusting, gross and foul, and just look up “chewing tobacco” in Google images, and you’ll get a potpourri of disgusting photos of what chew does to a person’s mouth and jaw. I mean dying of lung cancer is bad enough, but why would anyone take the risk of having their face mutilated because a cancerous jaw or cheekbone had to be removed. Honest, I don’t get it.
But, chew is deeply ingrained in baseball culture for some mystifying reason, along with bubble gum and sunflower seeds. Shockingly, as many as one-third of MLB players are tobacco chewers (as opposed to less than 10 percent of the general population.).
I remember reading an article many years ago about Rod Carew that said Carew chewed tobacco because it “helped keep his face tight” so he could see the ball better. Huh? That had to be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard (Carew also mixed bubble gum and chewing tobacco … YUCK!). When junior high school and high school kids see their heroes chewing, hey, what does that tell them? It’s cool to chew. While smoking rates for kids have declined the last few years (not as much as I would like) the rate of chewing among young people has either risen or remained flat. Something about “you can’t get lung cancer from chew…”
One former professional ballplayer, Rick Bender, actually goes out on the speaking circuit talking against chew … as best as he can without a jaw.
I don’t know what’s going to become of this letter. I suspect MLB may just scoff at it, but the health departments are right. It’s been banned in the minors for 17 freaking years, they can ban it at the major league level. Let players chew off the field. Let them chew gum and seeds in the dugout. And they can still scratch if they would like.