The first two games of the 2011 World Series have been played between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium and the teams are tied with one game each as the series heads to Texas. Most people are unaware of the plays going on behind the scenes as they watch the teams battle for the series on the field.
First, there is the play between the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and their new players’ contract. One of the major issues in the collective bargaining is banning the use of smokeless tobacco by the players. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig wants to propose smokeless tobacco restrictions in the major league, similar to restrictions already in place in the minors where smokeless tobacco is already banned. The players don’t want to be told what to do with their tobacco.
The second is a play of words is between four Senators and the MLBPA. Citing the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey that found smokeless tobacco products use has increased by 36 percent by high school boys since 2003, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, Frank Lautenberg, Tom Harkin, and Richard Blumenthal have called on the MLB Players’ Association to ban the use of all tobacco products at games and on camera. According to the Senators: “Major League ballplayers who use smokeless tobacco at games are providing a celebrity endorsement for these products, encouraging many young people to try smokeless tobacco.” Between 2005 and 2008, the tobacco industry more than doubled its marketing for smokeless products.
The third play is between the players themselves and the media. Ball players are all about tradition, and chewing tobacco has been part of baseball since the rules were written in the mid 1800s. Back in the day, players used the tobacco to keep their mouths moist, their mitts lubricated in the dusty parks, and make their spit balls fly. Peer pressure from other players also kept the tradition going. Chewing almost died out when smoking became popular with the players in the 1950s. When the dangers of cigarettes became public in the 1970s, players went back to chew and then dip, thinking it was safer. The tobacco industry gave out free samples to the players, and then recruited them for their ad campaigns.
MLB players think the decision to use or not use smokeless tobacco should be left up to them, but they are behind the times when it comes to the dangers of tobacco use. A lip or cheek of tobacco has as much nicotine as four cigarettes, increases the heart rate, blood pressure and causes irregular heartbeats. It contains 28 carcinogens, and is a known cause of human cancer. The players have been used as pawns for their celebrity by Big Tobacco to hook young players and hero worshipers into thinking that tobacco is necessary part of baseball. You don’t have to see an advertisement of a real player holding up a can of tobacco to know he is using, just watch for those tell-tail signs: a round impression in a back pocket, a packed lip or cheek, or a grown man spitting brown goo in the outfield or dugout. The kids watch. They know which players are users.
So, Commissioner Selig, you need to be the dad. The players still using tobacco on the field need to take a timeout and think about the consequences of their actions. We aren’t asking them to wash their lucky socks or trim off their series beards. We just want the players to get with the times. Their actions of using tobacco are stronger then their words telling the kids not to start. So, spit it out, step it up to the plate, and play ball.