Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tony Gwynn's death shows Major League Baseball's double standard

Tony Gwynn's death sheds a light on tobacco use in baseball.
On Tuesday the baseball world was jolted with the news. Tony Gwynn, one of the best hitter's in the history of the game, had died.

A few years back it was announced that Gwynn was battling throat cancer. The cause? Years and years of chewing tobacco.

For the past 15 years, the focus in Major League Baseball has been on the use of performance enhancing drugs. It has been on the hallowed records in the game that are threatened by players who are willing to risk their health and their their reputation for the chance to play well enough to earn a multi-million dollar, life changing contract.

Remember the commercial that Major League Baseball would air that showed a statue breaking down and pointing to steroids as the reason for that? It was a strong push to get kids who might think that using steroids was a good idea to realize that it would ultimately break their bodies down.

For years the players union fought any drug testing. However, things changed in 2002 when the players allowed random, anonymous tests that would determine whether or not a full-blown testing system was necessary. It turned out that it was, and since then, the testing and punishment for use has been continually getting tougher.

Every year, Bud Selig is quick to talk about how great the testing system is. He allows the pats on the back as he announces that Major League Baseball has the toughest policy against performance enhancing drugs of any major sport in America. Baseball is clean. That is the message that Selig tries to send.

Meanwhile, look in any Major League dugout and watch out where you step. Walk to the on-deck circle and see the stains surrounding the area. Walk to the plate and avoid the brown spots along the way. Major League Baseball players are quick to load up their lips and cheeks with their tobacco. Something that is just as dangerous, and far more prevalent than steroids has been openly used in Major League clubhouses and dugouts for years.

The tobacco that baseball players load their mouths with is exactly what cut Tony Gwynn's life short. He may have been able to fight off  a pitch on his hands and drive it to the opposite field, but he couldn't fight off the urge to load another dip into his lip before, during and after every game. The result of his decision is missing out on his son's Major League career, missing out on time with possible grandchildren, and being around to see other players try to catch him on the all-time hit's list. Gwynn was just 54-years-old.

Major League Baseball pats itself on the back for sending the right message to the kids who watch the game, but they are missing the most obvious influence that Major Leaguers are sending the kids who are watching them. Don't believe it? Look in almost any high school or college dugout. Tobacco use is banned at all levels of college baseball, and is certainly not allowed in high school. However, it's use is extremely prominent. Many times umpires don't say anything about it because they too have a wad of chew in their mouths.

Think how strange it is that Major Leaguers chew tobacco on the field. Imagine Peyton Manning barking out "Omaha" then taking a second to spit the brown saliva from his mouth before he received the ball from center. Imagine if before shooting a free throw, Ty Lawson ran to the sideline to find a trashcan to spit some tobacco juice into. It doesn't make any sense that baseball players are still allowed to chew tobacco on the field. The only reason that it is permissible is because players have been doing it since the turn of the century, and not this century.

The influence of tobacco has been far more of an influence in young people's lives than steroids. The ability to get tobacco is far easier for young people to get than steroids.

Major League Baseball has sent the message that steroids are terrible and that they won't stand for their players using them. However, they are quick to turn a blind eye to something that is not only a bad influence on the future generations of baseball players, but also to something that is literally killing the players right now.

It is time for Major League Baseball to take a stand on the use of tobacco in the dugout and on the field. It is time for them to fight a battle that means far more than the war on steroids that they have been fighting. If a high profile death like Tony Gwynn doesn't show the importance, nothing will.

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  1. Boy, you hit the nail on the head with this article, David!! Send it to SI!

  2. Without a doubt the stupidest article you have ever written. You want to ban a legal over the counter substance that (admitted can;t be good for you) but there has never been a conclusive study that shows tobacco causes cancer. Hundreds of children die before age 6 every year in this country. (I assume they were non smokers/chewers) and Marathon running health gurus non tobacco users die at age 30 from cancer and never touched tobacco. Now you want the good old boys to make a stand and have someone else in your life telling you what to do? Lets look at obesity. facts have proven that millions die of overweight complications in this country. Using your ideology they should remove all soft drinks and beer from concessions sorry Bud sorry Pepsi your not as healthy as water. No Nachos or anything with cheese. No Hot Dogs no hamburgers Just a Tofu, water and Yogurt vendor. A bit dramatic? Possibly? But you get my point.

  3. There might be risks but its their choice to make. Not MLB's. Tony Gwynn died of salivary cancer. Which in an article before his death said that that isn't necessarily linked to chew. Even if it was caused by tobacco its the players choice. Maybe right your next article on Chase Utley and his two pack a day smoking habit

    1. My point was not that they shouldn't be allowed to do it at all, my point was that it shouldn't be allowed on the field or in the dugout. If MLB wants to paint the picture that they are being a good influence on kids with their steroid policies, then they can't turn a blind eye to chewing tobacco that seems as common as a rosin bag.