Can Major League Baseball really rid itself of smokeless tobacco? – USA TODAY
Major League Baseballâs new collective bargaining agreement, hammered out late Wednesday night with the playersâ association, is a lengthy legal document filled with unambiguous numbers and plateaus involving minimum salaries, payroll thresholds, level of metabolites in urine tests and any number of measurable, agreed-upon standards.
Yet, perhaps the most ambitious new line item involves not a payroll tax or international bonus money, but rather the eradication of a habit ingrained in the game.
In short, can Major League Baseball stamp out chewing tobacco?
MLB and the union, according to The Associated Press, agreed to ban smokeless tobacco for all new major leaguers, a proactive step to rid the game of a disgusting, cancer-causing habit that Hall of Famer Tony Gwynnâs family insists contributed to his 2014 death at the age of 54.
They have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Altria, the corporation formerly known as Philip Morris, claiming Gwynnâs 31- college campuses year chew habit was aided and abetted by the marketing of smokeless tobacco products to men of Gwynnâs generation.
His death prompted some introspection; Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who played under Gwynn at San Diego State, said he would quit the habit, often easier said than done.
And therein lies the quandary with MLB and the unionâs well-intended ban: Itâs far easier in theory than in practice.
Did you know that smokeless tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues since 1993? And that the NCAA banned it â even subjects users to ejection from a game â around the same time?
And cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco banned its use in ballparks beginning last year.
Yet here we are, a quarter-century after these good-faith efforts began, and wads of chew between the cheek and gum are still impossible to miss on camera, even if the omnipresent tins have largely disappeared from the back pockets of players and coaches.
The question: Will we still be having these discussions a quarter-century from now?
MLBâs ban applies only to players who donât yet have a day of service time in the major leagues. That means weâre likely looking at around 15 years before this grandfather clause expires and tobacco, by rule, shouldnât be anywhere on the field.
That doesnât mean the coming generation wonât be any less addicted. A 2013 NCAA study revealed that 47.2% of college baseball players admitted to using smokeless tobacco. Some of those players are now in the minor leagues, dipping with discretion â not that we ever hear of strong enforcement of the minor league ban, anyway.
And while just two of 25 San Francisco Giants polled in March said they would not abide by the cityâs tobacco ban at AT&T Park, they also realize thatâs just three hours out of the day, over a season that stretches eight months.
âI hate to say itâs synonymous with baseball,â catcher Buster Posey told the San Jose Mercury News, which conducted the poll. âBut youâre around it a decent amount.â
Often enough that banning it, on paper, is for now merely symbolic. Itâs on the players to make it disappear, a culture change that will likely be measured in decades, not years.
GALLERY: MLB photo of the day
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