We see it every day on the baseball field. Our heroes, pitching and catching and hitting. And spitting. There’s a lot of spitting.
Sure, some of them are ejecting sunflower seeds, others straight-up saliva, but many of them are spitting out tobacco juice. Smokeless tobacco has been a part of baseball longer than gloves. Seriously, old-time ballplayers used to dip while fielding fly balls with their bare hands.
In 2011, U.S. senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Tom Harkin of Iowa wrote a letter to the baseball players’ union, asking them to work with Major League Baseball to ban the use of tobacco.
While the league has banned it use during pregame and postgame interviews and barred players from carrying it in their back pockets during games, you can still see many players with wads of the stuff in their bottom lips as they come to the plate.
Star centerfielder Josh Hamilton of the Anaheim Angels famously overcame drug and alcohol addiction, turning his life around and becoming an inspiration to many in the process. He still used chewing tobacco until late in the 2012 season, and was one of the game’s most recognizable offenders. When Hamilton decided to quit in August, he was criticized by Rangers president Nolan Ryan, who said that he did not like the timing of the decision. Ryan thought that his cravings were affecting his play on the field.
“You would’ve liked to have thought that if he was going to do that, that he would’ve done it in the offseason,” Ryan said. “So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year he was having up to that point, you’d like to think he would have taken a different approach to that.”
Other players, such as Hall of Famer and former San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, have suffered serious health issues as a result of tobacco use. Gwynn developed cancer in his mouth and now has little control over the right side of his face.
“When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example,” the senators wrote in the letter. “An agreement would help protect the health of players and be a great gift to our young fans.” Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig agreed, and stated that he would like to see tobacco banned from the ballpark.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 11.5 percent of high school boys use chewing tobacco. The Players’ Union has said that it will conduct a serious dialogue on the issue in the near future, but some players believe that they have the right to make their own decisions.