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Baseball should ban smokeless tobacco

Jan 31, 2011, 11:00 AM EDT

Francona tobacco

After Tony Gwynn — Stephen Strasburg‘s college coach — was diagnosed with parotid cancer, Stephen Strasburg decided to give up smokeless tobacco:

“I’m still in the process of quitting,” Strasburg, 22, said. “I’ve made a lot of strides, stopped being so compulsive with it. I’m hoping I’m going to be clean for spring training. It’s going to be hard, because it’s something that’s embedded in the game … I’m not going to sit here and be the spokesperson for quitting dipping. I’m doing it for myself. I’m not saying anything about anybody else – it’s their personal choice. For me, it’s the best decision.”

Good for him. I wish him luck.  And I agree with his sentiments about having to do it for himself as opposed to this being some larger principled stand.  It’s really hard and sometimes counterproductive to shame people into quitting tobacco. My mom smoked, and God knows how hard we’ve all tried to stop her. I wish it wasn’t the case, but the fact was that it wasn’t until she wanted to stop that she did. I think most people are that way with tobacco and other addictive substances.

Not that baseball shouldn’t try.  While direct appeals didn’t help my mom quit smoking, the fact of restaurant and workplace bans made it way harder for her to keep it up.  Smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues. It should be in the majors too, at least at the ballparks and when players are on the clock, as it were.  As Strasburg himself notes, kids definitely emulate the habit after seeing major leaguers do it.  What’s more, smokeless tobacco is way more dangerous for players’ health than steroids are and is way more easily obtainable for kids than steroids are.  Plus, it’s totally disgusting, yo.  How do these guys manage to keep girlfriends with that crap in their mouths?

As the article notes, the union believes this to be a matter for collective bargaining.  I think, however, that this is an issue like steroids was: protecting the players’ rights to use — be it directly or indirectly — is worse for the players in the long run than simply agreeing to a ban would be.

  1. BC - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    I don’t see a need to ban it. Unlike smoking, it doesn’t affect anyone but the user. I’d greatly dispute that it has any performance-enhancing effects. If guys want to risk giving themselves mouth cancer or worse, have a disgusting looking habit, and throw dollars down the drain, so be it.

    • jaybracken - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:29 AM

      I’m pretty sure Craig means “ban” as in, don’t allow them to use it at work. My company has the same policy. I don’t think he means “ban” as in, you can’t use this product in your own time, like steroids or illegal drugs.

      • BC - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:52 AM

        I can go outside and have a cigarette or chew tobacco if I want to outside the building. Illegal drugs and alcohol, obviously… not so much. But as long as I account for my full workday, I can use all the tobacco I want, as long as it’s outside the building. (Not that I do, by the way – I smoke a cigar or two in the summer when grilling, but I’m a non-smoker, non-dipper).

    • Kevin S. - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:33 AM

      Having sat around a caddy yard with a half-dozen guys who were dipping, I can assure you it does affect people other than the user. Specifically, my gag reflex.

    • tomemos - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      If you’re on TV being broadcast to adoring, impressionable fans, everything you do affects people other than yourself, including using deadly substances.

    • obo1892 - Mar 2, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      Without commenting on whether or not MLB should ban it, I’d like to point out that it isn’t a novel idea. The company I work for does not allow use of tobacco products on any of their campuses. That means you could be in your car in the parking lot outside your building and you are not allowed to smoke/dip. This becomes relevant when you realize I don’t work for some small liberal company; I work for the largest defense contractor in the world, Lockheed Martin.

  2. Paul White - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    If that photo of Francona is recent, then that wad in his cheek is actually bubble gum because he gave up chaw in 2007 as part of a bet with Larry Lucchino. Since then he’s a habitual gum-chewer, and can be seen reloading several times each game.

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    It’s actually an older photo. I like it because it’s a guy who quit. If you think it’s misleading, though, I should probably change it, huh?

    • Paul White - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:18 AM

      No, if that’s the case then it’s likely one of those awful tobacco-gum concoctions and is perfectly valid to use. Maybe just caption it “Tito Before Kicking the Habit” or something.

      • Brian - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:28 AM

        that’s totally chewing gum. you can see the pink in his mouth. chewing gum.

  4. jerkblog - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    How will this affect big league chew?

    • Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      Invest now, they are going nowhere but up.

  5. aburns77 - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    I give Strasburg credit trying to quit, I personally quit dipping a couple of months ago myself, but I can only imagine the temptation has to be much worse actually playing and being around people who do.

  6. Tim's Neighbor - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    If the employees can’t use tobacco in the front offices at the stadium, then I would think they wouldn’t want their employees using it on the field.

    • Alex K - Jan 31, 2011 at 12:04 PM

      Front office people are a dime a dozen. Major League ballplayers aren’t (well, useful ones). Plus, it’s not a traditional office setting.

  7. Jonny 5 - Jan 31, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    What a rollercoaster day for a minion…… Let’s think about removing the steroid ban mmmkay… And banning dip instead…

  8. Jeremy T - Jan 31, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    I think that scene in the Sandlot successfully eliminated any appeal for that stuff in my mind

    • BC - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:38 PM

      Agree. I dipped for a while in college, but then realized that I could be spending what little money I had on beer instead. Never did much for me, anyway.

  9. samu0034 - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:11 PM

    Jeez, let people make their own decisions for God’s sake. It doesn’t influence the game on the field at all.

    • tomemos - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:31 PM

      Samu, are you in favor of letting the players wear whatever clothes they want instead of uniforms? Or, I don’t know, letting them put political slogans on their bats and fielding equipment? Baseball players have to follow dozens of rules limiting what they can do during a game that don’t influence the game on the field. That’s because the sport isn’t just the game on the field, it’s also the aesthetics and the effects we want it to have on its spectators.

      • cur68 - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:45 PM

        Gotta agree with tomemos here. Those guys sign all kinds of things that says they can’t engage in reckless stuff that can hurt their playing status (more than one promising las vegas knife-thrower’s-target career given up for MLB, alas). Tobacco, even the stuff you chew, can shorten your life or ability to play. Same logic as giving up being a human target (surely you can tell I’m kidding about that, right?). Plus, as a fan, I’m pretty tired of seeing them hork a brown one. Hey! If they get rid of dip can they also then ban ball-scratching? No one needs to see that. And shirtless fat guys in the stands. Either that or issue eye-bleach for the viewing public. Man, when I come to power there are gonna be some changes…

  10. baseballfanatic74 - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    I remember reading recently that more and more teenage boys are dipping. What players do on their own time is their own business, but when they are on the field our kids are watching them and many of them see them as heroes and mimic them. I applaud Strasburg for trying to set a good example and hope to see more players follow suit. And it is past time for MLB to ban it in the upcoming contract negotiations.

  11. stottsera - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    should they ban grabbing their crotch?
    what about banning sad faces? that probably leads to depression

    • baseballfanatic74 - Jan 31, 2011 at 2:12 PM

      If either of those led to cancer, various mouth diseases, tooth loss, and so on… perhaps, yes. But they don’t, which just makes your comment that much more ridiculous. This is public use of a substance that while legal (like alcohol or cigarettes) has no place on the field during the game.

      • stottsera - Jan 31, 2011 at 2:58 PM

        so depression which leads to suicides is not dangerous? please explain how i am ridiculous

      • tomemos - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:22 PM

        Please, nobody actually tell him.

      • stottsera - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:23 PM

        seems you have run out of rebuttals for my point of view

      • tomemos - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:33 PM

        You’re right, I have absolutely no response to the idea that the link between sad faces and depression is as strong as the link between chewing tobacco and cancer, and that therefore banning sad faces in the dugout would prevent suicide among baseball players.

      • baseballfanatic74 - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:44 PM

        I did not say you were ridiculous (name calling gets us nowhere)… I said that your comment was ridiculous. Saying that sad faces leads to kids getting depressed is pretty far fetched. Saying that using chew leads to mouth disease and cancer is proven by scientific studies. Or just by paying attention — Tony Gwynn being the latest example.

    • dorito23 - Jan 31, 2011 at 7:13 PM

      Donnie Moore had a sad face.

  12. stottsera - Jan 31, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    its the parents job to teach their kids about the risks of tobacco not MLB

    • tomemos - Jan 31, 2011 at 2:39 PM

      No one wants MLB to teach anyone about the risks of tobacco, they just *don’t* want MLB players to *encourage* tobacco use. Do you think the managers should be allowed to smoke in the dugouts, too?

      • stottsera - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:00 PM

        i have no problem with managers/players anyone smoking in the dugout – or the stands for that matter

        and i dont smoke/chew etc, im just a fan of freedom

      • tomemos - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:11 PM

        “and i dont smoke/chew etc, im just a fan of freedom”

        Commencing eye-roll sequence! I guess your love of freedom also includes freedom from apostrophes.

      • baseballfanatic74 - Jan 31, 2011 at 3:53 PM

        Being a fan of freedom is great. But let’s get real. When you take a job, you agree to a set of working conditions, procedures, a code of conduct, etc… Even in a “hobby” capacity, when you join a team you agree to wear the uniform and being part of a team brings with it expectations about how you represent them. In this case, THIS IS THEIR JOB. I can’t go to work in boxer shorts with a beer in hand. The idea that I should be able to because my freedom is in jeopardy is … (well, fill in the blank.) I know – as do you – that when you take a job (or otherwise work with others, even in a volunteer capacity) you agree to act in a way that positively reflects on your organization/ team.

        This is their workplace and it is time that both players and the kids who watch and look up to them are protected. Ban all tobacco on the field and in the dugout. They can do what they want after the game is over and they are off camera.

      • Andrew - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:10 PM

        im just a fan of freedom

        You should either read this Wikipedia page, or watch the episode.

      • Reflex - Jan 31, 2011 at 10:25 PM

        Your ‘freedom’ to smoke/chew/etc is protected from government interference. It has nothing to do with private employers having thier own workplace rules, and private employers can indeed require players to maintain a company image when on the work premises, including conduct, dress and actions. They have every right to ban smoking while in uniform or on their premises.

        Now if this article was about the federal government banning baseball players from chewing, you would have a point. But this is not.

  13. stottsera - Jan 31, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    now that bobby is gone, more game will be tobacco free

  14. joepags - Feb 1, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    they have already taken smoking from the managers, not this!!!!! i am not a user of either product, but it has been part of the game from the begining, this should not happen!!! PC goes waaaaayyyy to far sometimes, in not offending people. parents need to do their job if they dont want their kids to use then BE a parent! these ball players arent their parents!!!

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