SAN DIEGO – One of Tony Gwynn’s last acts was issuing a simple message about the habit he blamed for his cancer.
About two and half months ago, Gwynn received a request from the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society – known as PBATS – to do a taped interview on the dangers of spit tobacco to be shown to players.
“It came back that Tony was entirely sick to do that,” said Neil Romano, adviser to the PBATS.
Romano says Gwynn’s agent then called, saying Gwynn felt bad for not taking part.
Gwynn blamed his decades-long use of chew tobacco for his mouth cancer.
On May 28, less than three weeks before Gwynn’s death, the group got final confirmation through his agent that they could use an emailed statement.
Gwynn’s message: “My advice to anyone would be if they aren’t using spit tobacco, please don’t start. And if you are using, try to quit, if not for yourself then do it for the people you love.”
“The fact that this was one of his last acts goes to his class, his character as a person, and frankly, his love for the game and the players,” said Romano.
When Gwynn was first diagnosed, Major League Baseball banned players from putting tins in pockets and using during interviews, but usage during games is still allowed.
Mark Grudzielanek retired in 2010 after a 15-year career. He never used but said when he started, it was readily available through clubhouse staff.
“Whatever we needed, they went and got it,” said Grudzielanek.
Romano says more than a decade ago, MLB started cracking down on that practice. Chew was also banned in the minors.
About a third of major league players still dip. Critics say that is a prime reason why a federal study found that 20 percent of high school boys chew.
Grudzielanek hopes Gwynn’s final message will make a difference. The five-minute film, which also commemorates Gwynn, was completed on June 13.
A few days ago, Gwynn protégé and pitcher Stephen Strasburg said he is quitting chew for his daughter.
“It’s taken lives and let’s hope this is the last life, and we can control this and get these guys to understand how bad it is for you,” said Grudzielanek. “To stop kids from doing it, it has to stop from the top.”
In recent days, some have called for a spit tobacco ban to be looked at with a new MLB player labor agreement in 2016.*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.