Author: John Rogers
California lawmakers have taken the first step toward accomplishing something Major League Baseball could never do: Stop players from stuffing those big wads of chewing tobacco into their mouths during games. With Gov. Jerry Brown signing a bill earlier this week banning the use of smokeless tobacco in all California ballparks, a practice dating to the days of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb now seems headed toward the sport’s endangered species list.
Although California is only one state, it is home to five of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, and team owners themselves have been pressing for a ban for years. Last May they got one in San Francisco, home of the reigning World Series champion Giants. In August they got another in Boston, site of fabled Fenway Park, and when Brown signed Assembly Bill 768 on Sunday one was already in the works for Los Angeles.
“Major League Baseball has long supported a ban of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level and the Los Angeles Dodgers fully support the Los Angeles City Tobacco ordinance and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,” the Dodgers said in a statement last month.
Major League Baseball still needs buy-in from the players, however, because the statewide ban that takes effect before next season has no provision for enforcement.
“The question we’ve been asked is are we going to have police officers walking around checking lips, and no, that’s not the case,” said Opio Dupree, chief of staff to Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who introduced the bill. “It’s going to be left to the team and the league.”
Interviews with players in recent years indicate that many are ready to quit — if they could.
“I grew up with it,” pitcher Jake Peavy told the Boston Globe last year when the newspaper polled 58 players the Boston Red Sox had invited to spring training and found 21 were users.
“It was big with my family,” said Peavy who is now with the San Francisco Giants. “Next thing you know, you’re buying cans and you’re addicted to nicotine.”
He added he would like to quit to set a better example for his sons.
Last year’s World Series MVP, San Francisco Giant’s pitching ace Madison Bumgarner, also chews tobacco but told The Associated Press earlier this year he planned to quit after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to adopt a ban. That one, like the statewide provision, also takes effect next year.
“I’ll be all right. I can quit,” Bumgarner said in August. “I quit every once in a while for a little while to make sure I can do it.”
All the players should, said Christian Zwicky, a former Southern California Babe Ruth League most valuable player who grew up watching the Los Angeles Dodgers play and says he never cared for seeing all that tobacco chewing and the spitting of tobacco juice that follows.
It didn’t influence him to take up the practice, the 22-year-old college student says, but he can see how it might have affected others.
“I understand the sentiment there,” said Zwicky who adds he’s not a big fan of government regulation but supports this law. “You don’t want these people that kids look up to using these products that could influence children in a negative way.”
Moves to adopt a comprehensive ban have been gaining support in recent years, fueled by such things as last year’s death of popular Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres, who blamed his fatal mouth cancer on years of chewing tobacco. Former pitcher Curt Schilling, a cancer survivor, has also taken up the cause.
Use of smokeless tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues for more than 20 years, but Major League Baseball and its players union haven’t been able to reach agreement on a similar restriction. Players and coaches are prohibited from chewing tobacco during television interviews and can’t been seen carrying tobacco products when fans are in the ballparks. But the chewing during the game continues.
“It’s a tough deal for some of these players who have grown up playing with it and there are so many triggers in the game,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the AP earlier this year.
“I certainly don’t endorse it,” said Bochy, an on-and-off-again user for decades. “With my two sons, the one thing I asked them is don’t ever start dipping.”