Can mlb players chew tobacco? From regular-season games to the baseball playoffs to historical footage of MLB legends, we’ve all seen footage of players dipping or chewing smokeless tobacco.
It’s been a cultural part of the game since the very beginning, but with the rather disgusting habit now linked to a range of serious health effects, it’s understandable many want to see smokeless tobacco use eradicated from baseball.
Major League Baseball’s 2016 collective bargaining agreement banned the use of smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco, for all new big league players. However, it did not apply to any player who already had at least one day of major league service at that time.
Considering a 2015 study found 37% of major league players and coaches were still using smokeless tobacco, this was a significant, if controversial, move by the MLB to reduce the habit.
In addition to the ban on new players, no major league player is permitted to take the field or enter the dugout with a tin or package of smokeless tobacco in their uniforms once fans are in the stadium. They are also not permitted to use the products during on-camera interviews, acknowledging MLB players are role models to many fans and should not be encouraging the practice, even subliminally.
Smokeless tobacco use has been linked to an increased risk of mouth, tongue, cheek, and gum cancers, as well as numerous other medical issues, but not everybody in the majors was happy about the 2016 bans.
Joe Maddon, then-manager of the Chicago Cubs, told the Chicago Tribune at the time, “I’m into personal freedoms, and I don’t understand the point with all that … I stopped chewing tobacco about 15 years ago, and I’m glad that I did, (but) to tell me what I can and can’t do as an adult, I’m not into that.”
Despite the outspoken few, many players were very supportive of the ban, some saying it would be the push they needed to help them quit the habit, and others simply recognizing that it was obviously for the greater good.
Following the death of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer in June 2014, most appreciated how important it was to turn MLB’s dependence on smokeless tobacco around.
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MLB players turning to nicotine pouches amid tobacco bans
SARASOTA, Fla. — In 1912, the American Tobacco Company advertised its popular “Bull Durham” brand of loose-leaf chewing tobacco by erecting enormous wooden bull statues beyond outfield fences in the majority of MLB stadiums.
Any player who struck a homer off the bull would win a $50 check and 72 “sacks” of tobacco as a reward.
By season’s end, the company paid out $10,550 in prize money and gave away 254,700 sacks to players, but also saw sales skyrocket in what is considered one of the more successful and influential baseball advertising campaigns of the early 20th century.
That same Bull Durham brand also inspired the Durham Bulls moniker (the team was fittingly known as the “Tobacconists” until 1912), which in turn inspired the famous 1988 movie of the same name.
But while Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate is still called the Durham Bulls today and the team still has a huge bull statue towering beyond its left-field wall, tobacco’s influence over the sport has changed quite a bit over the years to become much more … visceral.
From the major-leaguers with gaudy lumps of chaw bulging beneath their lower lips to the geysers of mud-brown dip spit erupting over dugout railings to the pucks of long-cut wintergreen rattling around in back pockets to the slapping pitapat of tins being packed, its presence is everywhere. And, of course, there’s the infamous scene in “The Sandlot” where the kids stuff their mouths full of Red Man (now known as America’s Best after an overdue name change) before vomiting all over the tilt-a-wheel.
And while dip usage among big-leaguers has declined since Tony Gwynn’s premature death from mouth cancer in 2014 and the related partial ban of smokeless tobacco from the 2016 collective bargaining agreement, a significant number of players still regularly partake both away from and in plain view of TV cameras.
The practice is perhaps even more commonplace in high school, college and minor-league ball, despite the well-documented and publicized dangers “chew” presents.
But across MLB clubhouses this spring training, cans of chewing tobacco have been as conspicuous as ever. Fewer players than before have stacks of tins lined up in their lockers. The smell of long-cut doesn’t fill batting cages and dugouts like it used to.
How MLB Is Rooting Out its Longstanding Problem With Smokeless Tobacco
On a night of high spirits and free-wheeling fun last week, MLB’s All-Star Game cleared a tiny space for a somber note of reflection. The practice has been included in every All-Star Game and World Series for a decade now, an exercise that’s solidifying into tradition: the moment when everyone in the stadium, from players to umpires to fans, is encouraged to stand with a placard bearing the name of someone who’s battled cancer.
Part of the league’s partnership with the charitable organization Stand Up to Cancer, the moment of silence is always poignant. And it quietly underscores another way that baseball has been standing up to cancer lately—the progress that’s been made in pushing smokeless tobacco out of the game.
This season has marked a small milestone in the game’s movement against smokeless tobacco, which includes products such as chew and dip. As of May, smokeless tobacco is now banned in half of major-league stadiums. (The Mariners’ Safeco Field made for No. 15 of 30, when an ordinance passed by the King County Board of Health went into effect this spring.)
It represents a key halfway point in what’s been a gradual and years-long process, ridding baseball of a substance that once seemed as integral a part of the game as hot dogs or scorecards.
Smokeless tobacco use has been linked to an increased risk of mouth, tongue, cheek and gum cancers, along with other health risks. Though it’s been banned in college baseball since 1990 and in the minor leagues since 1993, the elimination of chewing and dipping from the majors has proved a far slower process.
The effort began in earnest in the mid-’90s, primarily as the crusade of one man: Joe Garagiola, the retired broadcaster and catcher, who chewed himself in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In 1994, Garagiola began an annual tour of major league clubhouses to discuss the dangers of smokeless tobacco with players and managers, part of what would become known as the National Spit Tobacco Education Program.
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