Education needed to end chewing tobacco in MLB

Education needed to end chewing tobacco in MLB
August 20, 2014, 5:30 pm

BOSTON - It's no surprise to see baseball players and coaches standing in the field or dugout with a wad of chewing tobacco shoved in their mouths.

Chewing tobacco and baseball have gone hand in hand since the 1800's. While it's obviously gone down in usage over the years, it's still common to see in today's game.

But those players should chew on this: they can easily get cancer and die from it.

The great Babe Ruth died of throat cancer, and was known to be a heavy tobacco user.

Just recently, Tony Gwynn passed away from salivary cancer that he says was due to chewing tobacco.

And on Tuesday, we found out that the cancer Curt Schilling had was mouth cancer that he "knows" is due to his chewing tobacco for 30 years.

That's just a miniature timeline that proves players shrug off the past in terms of tobacco usage and go ahead with it anyways. Major League Baseball cannot prevent its players from chewing it right now, but it can give them all the reasons not to.

"It's banned throughout the minor leagues and it has been for a number of years (1993)," John Farrell said. "MLB has taken steps to dissuade players from using it though educational programs that are administered to every team. It's even gotten to the point now where players can be fined if smokeless tobacco is in view of the general public. And there have been some of those warnings or penalties levied on some of our guys."

Yes, players on the Red Sox do chew tobacco, but Farrell couldn't put a number on how many actually do. He can't tell his players not to do it - after all, it's been collectively bargained by the players and teams - but through education they can decide on their own.

"I think we all recognize that it's addictive," Farrell said. "It causes cancer, that's proven. And at some point at this time it's upon the player to make the conscious decision for himself if he is to use it or not. And all we can do is continue to educate guys on what the ramifications might be."

It's hard to believe that baseball players are using chewing tobacco for the same reasons it started being used in the game to begin with. Back in the late 1800's players shoved the tobacco in their mouths to lubricate them while on the dusty playing field. Players also used to spit into their gloves to moisten those, while pitchers used the juice on baseballs before spitballs were banned.

Is a moist glove really worth your life?

"On the heels of the unfortunate passing of Tony Gwynn and now what Curt's going through," Farrell said, "you would think that this would be more of a current beacon for guys to take note and know that there's a price to be paid if you're one of the unfortunate ones that is stricken by cancer."

Perhaps it will take the death of Gwynn, and Schilling's outspokenness on chewing tobacco being the reason for his mouth cancer to get it out of the game when the next collective bargaining agreement is set in 2017.