Taking the Tradition Out of Baseball

The Baseball Hall of Fame is about to start a new program this year called “Be a Superior Example,” or BASE for short.  This education program is designed to promote a healthy lifestyle free of performance enhancement drugs (PEDs), which is an issue facing the game.  While some youth may feel they need to take PEDs to enhance their game and be noticed, other youth believe the use of smokeless tobacco products is part of the tradition of the game.  Unfortunately, the unnecessary “tradition” of smokeless tobacco is harming players.

Chewing tobacco was the most popular form of tobacco used in 1847 when baseball rules were first written.  When chewing was linked to the spread of TB in the early 1900s, the public moved to a “safer” tobacco in the form of cigarettes, but players kept chewing.  By the 1950s most players had moved over to cigarettes.  But when the dangers of smoking became evident, players went back to chewing.  Dip became popular in the 1970s when free samples were given to players from the college level teams to the major league.  It was during this time that the use of dip increased with boys in the 17-19 age group by fifteen-fold.

Peer pressure by old-time players pushed most of the new players to start using chew.  However, some started chew before they started playing baseball.   Babe Ruth said he was 7 when he The Babe Comes Homestarted chew. In addition to chew, he rolled his own cigars, was a cigarette and pipe smoker, and endorsed tobacco products.  He even appeared in a 1927 silent film “Babe Comes Home,” about a player with a juice-stained uniform and the girl who works in a laundry and has to clean it.  In the movie, love conquers all and the Babe swears off chew.   In real life, that isn’t how the story ended.  Babe Ruth died of throat cancer at age 53.

Anti-spit tobacco crusader Bill TuttleBill Tuttle, a former American League outfielder for 11 seasons, died at age 69 from oral cancer due to his smokeless tobacco use. His baseball card on the left shows a cheek packed and bulging with chew.  It took five different operations to remove the cancer and rebuild parts of his face and skull.  He spent his last years crusading against spit tobacco, using himself as a “living example of the consequences of tobacco addiction,” according to his obituary.

Tony Gwynn, a 20 season outfielder, baseball coach at San Diego State, and smokeless tobacco user, is currently battling cancer after having a fourth operation this past week to remove a tumor from his right salivary gland.   He believes his tumors are the result of his history of using smokeless tobacco.

This past December the MLB players and owners signed an agreement for a new labor contract.  Although Commissioner Bud Selig, Senators, club owners, doctors, and concerned fans wanted smokeless tobacco products banned from the game, the players voted to continue the use.  However, they cannot carry it in their uniforms or use it during televised interviews.  Some players argue they have a right to chew.

It’s great the Baseball Hall of Fame wants to educate young kids about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs.  But as spring training 2012 is about to get up and running,  let’s educate the players and also educate the fans about the dangers of smokeless tobacco, and break the cycle of tradition.

Click here for photos of MLB’s 8 Biggest Dippers

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