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.