Commissioner Wants MLB Tobacco Ban, Players' Association Honcho Resists

Commissioner Wants MLB Tobacco Ban, Players' Association Honcho Resists

“The habitual users run a serious chance of getting into severe trouble,” American League President Bobby Brown told the Chicago Tribune in 1989. “The statistics show that a person who uses the tobacco on a regular basis has a 50-times greater risk of developing oral cancer than the person who doesn’t. We have to make people aware that if they do this, they could run into a serious problem.”

A quarter-century later, Brown’s office has been abolished. But chew and dip remain an entrenched part of the game. 

“It will be a subject they’ll discuss during the next collective bargaining,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who will be retired by then, promised on Tuesday. “I understand that individuals have a right to make their own decisions. I hope we’re successful, because the Tony Gwynn story was a heartbreaking, awful story.”

The San Diego Padres legend died of salivary gland cancer last month after years of using tobacco. “I feel very strongly about this, just as I did ten, fifteen years ago,” Selig told members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America hours before the All-Star Game. “The one thing I personally assume as commissioner is that we’re responsible for the health of our players. I believe that. Some may think that’s naive, but I don’t think so.”

Sixteen years ago, MLB banned tobacco companies from leaving free samples of their products in clubhouses. In 2012, MLB prohibited players from possessing tins of dip or pouches of chew during games and banned the use of the products during interviews. There’s even a website that allows people to snitch on suspected violators.

But change comes eephus-pitch slow to the ultimate traditionalist game. Unlike football, which periodically altered its point structure, banned forward motion, and introduced the forward pass, or basketball, which no longer sees guards defending the hoop or tip offs after every field goal, baseball plays in the 21st century essentially as it did during the 19th century. And in the 19th century, competitors chewed, dipped, and snuffed. They do so in the 21st century, too.   

Tony Clark, executive director of the players’ association, wants athletes, not the league, to decide whether they stop or not. “We give the players the opportunity to make the decision they’re going to make against the backdrop of it being legal,” the towering former first baseman explained. “At the end of the day, we don’t condone it and they know we don’t condone it.”