Phenom Steven Strasburg quitting chew because Tony Gwynn has cancer

Steven Strasburg, collegiate pitching phenom and brief MLB phenom for the Nats (I remember watching this guys debut and literally saying, “Oh, my God” about a half a dozen times. He has some of the most vicious moving pitches I’ve ever seen), announced this week that he is quitting chewing tobacco.

This is an excellent article from the Washington Post, a stridently anti-tobacco newspaper, about Strasburg’s chew habit.

Strasburg said he took up chew in high school because — quell shock — he wanted to emulate Major League ballplayers he was watching on TV. He decided to try and quit chew — and he admitted he is addicted to tobacco — after learning that his college coach at San Diego State, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, is battling a malignant parotid cancer (cancer of the saliva glands. Yuck. Sounds awful.), which he blames on his longstanding chew habit. Gwynn has had several bouts of gland and mouth cancer over the last 15 years.

Smokeless tobacco has been banned in Minor League Baseball, and there is talk of banning it in Major League Baseball (meaning players couldn’t dip while on the field or in the dugout).

Strasburg had a 2.91 ERA and had a staggering 92 strikeouts in only 68 innings. Even though the Nats tried to baby him — 68 innings in 12 starts — he still hurt his elbow, which everyone was afraid of, and required Tommy John surgery last year. I don’t know if he’s expected to pitch in 2011.

Kentucky and Tennessee tobacco growing

Remember I wrote a couple days about about Bowling Green, Kentucky’s, smoking ban? A pair of interesting articles about Kentucky and Tennessee’s relationship with tobacco. Kentucky was 20 years ago the No. 1 tobacco-producing state in the nation. It also has historically been No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation for smoking rates, and it also leads the nation in highest lung cancer rate (76 per 100,000 people each year, versus 52 per 100,000 people in the U.S. as a whole.). In 1990, the tobacco growing industry in Kentucky alone generated $900 million in revenue. By 2009, that figure had dropped to $380 million, less than one-half.

And yet, fewer places in Kentucky are allowing smoking. The two biggest cities — Louisville and Lexington, have banned smoking, and Bowling Green, the third biggest city, joined them last week. Several other cities such as Frankfort and Paducah also ban smoking. I think it’s amazing anywhere in Kentucky bans smoking when tobacco is so entrenched in the state (By comparison, few major cities in Alabama have banned smoking).

In adjacent Tennessee, the bottom has dropped out the cigarette tobacco business, so how have farmers adjusted. Unfortunately, many of them have simply switched to growing chewing tobacco, which is increasing in use (partly because of smoking bans). Instead of switching to corn or wheat, they’re not buying a clue and switching to another deadly, addictive product. That’s a bummer … and disappointing. Acreage in Tennessee and Kentucky devoted to cigarette tobacco has decreased 40 percent in recent years, but acreage devoted to chewing tobacco has increased 22 percent.

C’mon farmers. Plow that shit under. Grow something else. Soybeans. Canola. Dope. Anything. Anything but tobacco.

Bowling Green, heart of tobacco country, going smokefree

Interesting. Last week, Bowling Green, Kentucky, right smack dab in the middle of smoking country went smokefree. Bowling Green is surrounded by tobacco farms. In 1987, tobacco was the No. 1 cash crop in Kentucky. A city surrounded by tobacco farms going smokefree, almost as weird as Virginia (home of RJ Reynolds) and North Carolina (home of Altria) going smokefree.

This story looks at concerns by business owners and the local VFW hall over the new law. But, I love this one quote from an old-timer regular at a Bowling Green bar called the Little Brown Jug. “People will come in,” he said. “This is our home.”

That’s usually what happens. People keep coming in. I know at the diviest of the dive bars in our town, the old-timers still go in to their second home. Their lives haven’t really been affected.

The other funny thing is there is a really aggressive anti-smoking ban zealot who posts all over the Internet (I hadn’t heard anything about this guy for at least 18 months, but then he showed up on some site I posted on a couple of days ago. I then did a quick Google and found out he’s been posting his spam like crazy all over the Internet on any and all smoking ban stories. He’s just obsessed.), who lives near Bowling Green. It’s gotta really chap his hide that the nearest city is smokefree!

Ooops, lawsuit against Nebraska smoking ban didn’t go as planned

Oops. This business owner muffed the punt.

A smoking ban in Nebraska exempted cigar bars, but not pool halls. A pool hall owner filed suit against the state last year and a judge this week ruled that yes, the smoking ban was unconstitutional.

Because it exempted cigar bars. So he struck the part of the bill exempting cigar bars.

I bet cigar bar owners in Nebraska are pretty pissed off right now at the pool hall owner.

Oh, the important thing is, the smoking ban overall was judged to be constitutional.

New study: Wisconsin smoking ban not hurting hospitality industry

A new economic impact study done by the University of Wisconsin looked at the five cities in Wisconsin in light of that state’s year-old smoking ban.

In the five cities — Madison (which had an existing ban), Appleton, Fond du Lac, Marshfield and Eau Claire — the study found an increase in liquor licenses and no drop in employment in the hospitality industry since the ban went into effect. In fact, since the ban went into effect, beer sales in Madison went UP 3 percent, while nationwide, they went down 2-4 percent because of the recession.

What it found is that the number of bars and taverns has decreased slightly since 2004, while full-service restaurants have increased. Employment in bars and taverns decreased slightly, while employment overall has held steady. This may or may not have anything to do with the smoking ban. Meanwhile, this is all while the economy in Wisconsin went into a sharp decline. Quoting the study:

Despite the significant economic recession of 2008, the study found the hospitality industry to be the most economically successful industry in the smoke-free cities.

This kind of confirms something I’ve suspected for some time. Some places might get hurt by smoking bans — small mom and pop taverns that don’t serve food — i.e., neighbourhood bars full of old, reliable customers (also known as dives), while overall the hospitality industry either remains unchanged or actually improves because overall more people decide to go out who otherwise wouldn’t .. because they hate smoke. I will argue until I’m blue in the face, yeah, maybe some people in the short term might lose jobs in these mom and pop taverns, but in the long run, it’s the right thing. And in the long run, is society really worse off by having fewer smoky small dives? I mean, if you’ve ever spent much time in these places, most of them are pretty depressing. They’re like strip mall casinos.

I asked my brother who lives in Wisconsin what the reaction of the state is. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, “no one really notices. No one cares.” Confirms my suspicions. Some bar owners rail against bans and a handful of Libertarians and smokers’ rights folks make a fuss, but 90-95 percent JUST LEARN TO LIVE WITH IT!!

Anyway, this study is very similar to literally hundreds of other economic impact studies done, but it won’t quiet the critics. No number of studies will. It’s like global warming deniers. I can hear the chorus of “lies, all lies” at the Smokers’ Club website as I type.

Here is the direct link to the study.

American Lung Association: You all FAIL!!!

And you!

And you!

And you, too!

And you, three!!

The American Lung Association came out with its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report this week, and not surprisingly, pretty much every state got failing grades. In fact, Montana was only one of five states in the entire nation that got “passing grades” from the American Lung Association (The other four were Arkansas, Maine, Vermont and Oklahoma — Vermont and Maine are among the top states every year, but Arkansas and Oklahoma are a bit of a surprise).

The ALA grades in four categories — Anti-tobacco program spending, smokefree air, cigarette tax and cessation programs. Most states get Fs for program spending because most states do not spend nearly the amount of money on anti-tobacco programs as was recommended many years ago by the Centers for Disease Control after the 1998 settlement agreement between the states and the tobacco industry. The eight worst states (mostly in the South) were S. Carolina, N. Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi. Two other states got three Fs and one D — Indiana and Texas. Most of these states have high smoking rates. (Strange that N. Carolina got an F for smokefree air because they have a pretty strong smoking ban in that state. Like I said, the ALA is harsh.).

Montana got Cs for anti-tobacco spending, cigarette tax and cessation programs. The ALA believes cigarette taxes should be at least $2 a pack, and Montana’s is $1.70, which is roughly around the national average. Montana does have a couple of really nice ad campaigns funded by the state (with the hard core Republican legislature in session this year, it will be interesting to see if the funding continues.) One is called reactmt, which targets teens and the other campaign Tobacco Free Montana, targets adults. Both are good, solid campaigns, but I fear they may be on the chopping block.

If you’re curious, click here to see how your state is doing.

Smokeless tobacco … without the tobacco

Interesting, a rodeo rider from Whitehall, Montana, has invented a kind of snuff that uses alfalfa and peppermint rather than any tobacco products. He eventually developed cancerous lesions in the mouth and lymphoma.

Now cancer-free and with his jawbone luckily still intact, Dave Holt, working with the University of Nebraska, has invented this tobacco-free snuff that he says is as tasty as the real deal. Holt claims his concotion also makes a nice tea and helps ward off colds (Well, we’ll take his word for it, the big thing is, it isn’t CARCINOGENIC.). The family is producing 600 cans a day of their product and are ready to start making more as demand for more tobacco-free products grows.

Here’s wishing them well. I’ll help give them a bit of free advertising. Here is their website:

“Dammit, Blamtucky, I ain’t reprogramming a VCR”

Sorry, I just think that’s the funniest movie line. Ever.

Kentucky? and Indiana? are considering smoking bans? Well, I suppose I believe it when I see it, but a smoking ban did pass last year in a Republican-dominated Kansas, Virginia and North Carolina in the the last year or two, so anything is possible. I was actually genuinely shocked when Kansas passed a strong smoking ban. Very, very conservative state.

Kentucky and Indiana are obviously both Republican-dominated states, and Republicans are loathe to pass smoking bans, because many conservatives see them as infringing on small businesses (I’m sure all the campaign contributions Big Tobacco consistently shovels toward Republicans have nothing to do with it.). They also happen to have two of the highest smoking rates in the nation. Not coincidentally, they are also two of the 12 states left with absolutely no statewide smoking ban whatsoever. It will be interesting to see how far these bills proceed. After the bloody battles in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states recently, I believe the tide has turned on smoking bans. The opposition is crumbling and there are fewer and fewer “black states” on the smoking ban map.

Thirdhand smoke

This is an interesting issue that drives the anti-smoking ban lobby crazy, but trust me, it’s real. You’ve heard of first-hand smoke, right? That’s the smoke the smoker inhales. Second-hand smoke? That’s the smoke hanging in rooms that non-smokers have to breathe.

There is also something called Third-hand smoke. And it’s real. That is the residue left behind in the walls, the carpet, the furniture, but cigarette smoke. And trust me, it stinks. When we had a chain-smoker move downstairs at the condo, the smoke got in the furniture and the carpet. After we got this smokestack to not smoke directly underneath us anymore, you could still smell it in the carpet and furniture. I had to have the carpet cleaned and the upholstery cleaned to get rid of the reek. I did not send him a bill, though I was tempted.

That thirdhand smoke not only stinks, it is genuinely bad for you. Several studies have pointed out, including a new one just came out this week from Israel, states that the residues in thirdhand smoke can cause respiratory problems and more. I can believe it. Before we had the condo cleaned, I felt constant irritation in my throat and nose from the residue, and I could feel those airways starting to clamp up from it. It’s not a joke, it’s real.

For the Great Lardini, a post about a couple of awesome Twins … and how I was convinced I was wrong

With help from numbers geek and spooky hacker Haruko.

About a year ago, I got into a heated, long-running argument with a bunch of people over whether or not Bert Blyleven should be in the Hall of Fame. This literally went on for weeks. It got really testy with all kinds of frothing at the mouth posts and e-mails with all kinds of stats being flung like monkey shit.

I remember Blyleven as a real schmoe when I was a kid. Was a guy who ate up innings and gave up a shitload of gopher balls and a really sick 12-to-6 curveball. In fact, he has the MLB record for most home runs given up in a year — 50 — and he gave up 46 the following year. Hall of Famer? For what? Hanging around forever and never getting hurt? Give me a break. You might as well put Vinnie Testaverde in the NFL Hall of Fame.

I trotted out all these stats — went to two All Star games in 22 years, never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting, only had a winning percentage over .600 four times in his career, gave up 96 home runs in two years, lost 15 or more games seven times, had a career winning percent of .534, never led the league in ERA or strikeouts. Yup, yup, yup, it all smacked of mediocrity. A mediocre guy who hung around forever and thus built up a lot of stats. Baseball’s Vinnie Testaverde. Oh, I had all these convincing stats to back up my case. Then my buddies trotted out their stats. And I was surprised.

5th all time in strikeouts
8th all time in shutouts
11th all time in games started
14th all time in innings pitched
9 shutouts in one season
Career ERA 3.31 — very solid.
242 complete games!

There is only ONE pitcher in the modern era those numbers stack up against. One. Nolan Ryan. 242 complete games. Jamie Moyer has pitched 25 seasons and has *33* complete games. Randy Johnson, a certain Hall of Famer, pitched 22 years and had exactly 100 complete games.

Blyleven put up some utterly sick numbers for the Minnesota Twins early in his career before I ever heard of him (I think the first I heard of him was when he pitched for the Pirates in ’79). In seven years in Minnesota, he averaged 272 innings a year, 220 strikeouts a year, had an ERA under 2.80 over that span, he had 30 shutouts and 115 complete games. The guy literally put up FREAK numbers during this stretch. And he went a whopping 108-101, a winning percentage of only .517. If he had been pitching for the Reds, he would’ve won 150 games. After he left the Twins, he was somewhat up-and-down. He would have a good year, followed by a bad year, followed by a good yer and so on. But, he continued to rack up tons of stats, even in his off years. He was a freak. His career had to generate the strangest numbers in baseball history. Jaw-dropping career stats, jaw-dropping durability with a lukewarm winning percentage.

A lot of people use “He pitched for a lot of bad teams” in their pro-Blyleven arguments. Actually, that’s not true. He was on two World Series winners and pitched in another World Series. The Twins were not a bad team when he was there. They had Carew and Lyman Bostok and Tony Oliva. They were mediocre, not bad. But, for whatever reason, they simply didn’t score many runs for Blyleven. Maybe he went up against other teams’ top pitchers too many times.

So, I started looking at these numbers and realized the guy was a BEAST. He just didn’t WIN. And pitchers have limited control over their win totals. Sportswriters have finally begun to figure that out. Lincecum won a Cy Young winning 15 games. Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with 13 wins.

And I realized I was wrong. This guy deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. He had two strikes against him — he never had a genuinely GREAT season, not even one, and he didn’t have a high winning percentage. He was essentially a very solid, durable pitcher who had a lot of bad luck. But, top 14 all time in four major categories more than made up for that. I found myself joining all kinds of “Bert Blyleven Should Be in the Hall of Fame” Facebook pages.

And how great it was to be convinced I was wrong, then see my changed mind vindicated by his selection into the Hall of Fame.

Harmon Killebrew

Last week, the news came out that Twin great Harmon Killebrew has esophageal cancer. This is a tough one. Esophogeal cancer killed Humphrey Bogart.
Killebrew hit a staggering 573 home runs for the Twins. He was a bit before my time. By the time I started paying attention to baseball, he was in his late 30s and his career was winding down. He averaged 39.6 home runs a year over 12 seasons … staggering. Well before the days of steriods. The only thing this guy had helping him was coffee and greenies. And he was a true old-fashioned swing from the heels slugger. His career batting average was only .256, though that is misleading because he also walked more than 90 times in nine seasons. Make no mistake, this guy was feared. A lot.

I didn’t know if Killebrew smoked or chewed. So many of the old time ballplayers chewed. So I looked it up. I found out Killebrew had given motivational speeches on the dangers of smoking and how difficult it is to quit. So, he did smoke. Does it make any difference? Not really. But, I still feel it’s important to point out that he is yet another victim of smoking and nicotine. These speeches were apparently sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline.

I mean it when I say that I strongly resist the urge to blame well known people are/were smokers when I read they have cancer. That’s an attitude I despise. That’s NOT the reason I look these things up. I feel compelled to track down whether they were a smoker, because I do see them as victims of the tobacco industry. And I do feel it’s important to point out they were victims of the industry and its lies.

I wish him well in his battle.

Our quilt barn art adventure in the snow

A local artist came up with the cute idea of painting a bunch of quilt patterns on the sides of barns in our little neighbourhood in the country. I guess it’s a bit of a “performance piece.”

Seriously, where most people live, they have a thing called “suburbs.” In Montana, they don’t have suburbs. They have “rural-urban interface.” Which means, suburbs with wolves.

I absolutely adore our neighbourhood. It’s out in the country, but a couple of miles from a highway and about three or four miles from a city. What’s weird is that you don’t feel like you are a three or four miles from a city, you feel like you are really out in the wop wops. We have deer, raccoons and an amazing variety of birds.

Our lot is on an old several-hundred-acre farm that the owner, a very nice elderly man whose family has been farming in this valley since the 1800s (no exaggeration), broke up into a bunch of 10-acre lots (our farm is about 8 acres). It’s just perfect. We have horses across the street and llamas next door. We are surrounded by gentleman farmers and unfortunately a few McMansion developments. Fortunately, our county is fairly progressive and has taken measures to prevent the McMansion developments from taking over, because, frankly, they bloody well would without these regulations. There is one down at the end of our road. It was a huge pasture when we moved here. Now it is about 30 homes.

I started to put on my good Corso Comos, but my boyfriend said that was a bad idea. It was pretty yucky out. I started putting on my good Sorels, but then he said, no it’s pretty yucky out. So, I put on my cruddy Sorels, which are actually boys’ boots.

We started our tour at a very bad time — right after school got out. The roads were very busy with parents picking up kids along the three schools along our route. It was me and a bunch of little smart-alecks and a malamute. It was a fun little scavenger hunt, seeing if we could find the quilt patterns on the barns and outbuildings. We had a map with little X’s for the barns, but you still had to keep a sharp eye. Sure enough, we had a heck of time finding two or three of them. I promised the smart-alecks that if we found all the quilt paintings hidden in the neighbourhood, there would be a treat at a country dairy where we get our milk and bread. The truth is even if we didn’t find them all, there would be a treat.

It also didn’t help that it was snowing pretty hard. I soon discovered one problem with the treasure hunt. There were no shoulders on the roads. The shoulders were berms of snow four or five feet deep. This is our heaviest snowfall since 1983 and the further you got from town, the more you appreciated how deep the snow really was. I had never seen so much snow in my life!

We found the first barn no problem, right down the road from us. The second one was a tiny outbuilding hidden in the trees. These were on a very busy road and it was probably slightly dangerous to “pull over” when in fact, the shoulders barely existed. One drongo splashed nasty slush all over our car. Slow down!

Anyway, the third barn was very small and well away from the road.

The fourth one we couldn’t find. The fifth one was my favourite. It was actually on a side road, so we didn’t have to worry about the afterschool traffic. It was on a big barn and it was feeding time for the horses. The horse owner said you want to take a photo of my barn, you have to help feed the horses. I realized we had lived here for 18 months and this was the first time I had ever gone down this beautiful road. How could we live in this neighbourhood for a year and a half and not have traveled all the roads? Too busy. Too many things to take care of. Not enough time to simply wander. This road eventually winds up into the mountains and becomes a Forest Service road.

So we pitched in, crossing waist-deep snow, and helped feed the owners’ three horses. The horse owner told us she was getting pretty used to people driving by and checking out her barn, but we were the first people to help feed her horses. After we were released from our term of indentured servitude, it was off to see if we could find the other barns.

The sixth one we could not find. The damned snow was not helping us! And it seemed like no matter what road we turned down, there was a schoolbus following us!

No. 7 was across an ancient one-lane bridge over a huge river. Beyond the river, the farms get a lot bigger. Instead of gentleman farmers, you have real ranchers with cattle and sheep instead of horses and exotic goats. Crossing back over the century-old bridge, we found No. 6! It was actually in a McMansion development near the river. How strange, several miles away from the city, and someone had built a big development way out here.

We returned past the dairy and I got the girls milkshakes and the malamute an ice cream drumstick which he ate in about two seconds (do dogs not get brain freeze?). Every one of the girls wanted strawberry. It’s winter, so there are no huckleberry shakes, which is everyone’s favourite flavour in the summer. This dairy has the biggest cow statue I’ve ever seen!

Right at the intersection with the cow statue, I looked to the left, and there was No. 4 hiding about 200 yards down a side road! Our map was slightly wrong, that was why we couldn’t find it. We had found all seven.

And I came to appreciate how beautiful our neighbourhood really is. That was the first time I had really “wandered it.” Gosh, we are simply too busy for our own good, I kept thinking. And I came to appreciate those “Fascist” progressive development laws that were keeping our rural neighbourhood rural for perpetuity.

We went out to eat that night. And I wore my nice spotless Corso Comos to dinner and felt quite chuffed!

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