Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 342: Baseball's Bad Habit: Smokeless Tobacco

Chewing (or smokeless) tobacco is some bad shit. These days there aren't many people who don't know this. With all the health warnings and education on its dangers, it's surprising that anyone would be stupid enough to put this crap in their mouth. Plus, it's just gross. Despite an effort a couple years ago to ban it from major league baseball completely (which was shot down by the player's union), it's still quite prevalent among players—including over a third of men reporting to Red Sox spring training this year.

There are 28 cancer causing carcinogens in smokeless tobacco. Many of those ingredients are quite recognizable—and most certainly are not things you would normally put in your mouth. So it just boggles my mind why people still use it? Arsenic and Cyanide are both poisons. Cadmium is found in car batteries. Formaldehyde is used to embalm the dead. Uranium 235 is used in nuclear weapons and Polonium is a nuclear waste product. Fiberglass and sand are included to help rough up the inside of the mouth and get the nicotine into the bloodstream faster. And let's not forget sugar because why not make it taste sweet too... you know, for the children.

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote an article this past week about why it's so hard to shake this disgusting habit. It's a really interesting and telling story and on one hand, you feel for the Boston players who are locked into using it because it's part of their routine. But on the other hand, you just want to smack them for being so ignorant and stubborn. Some guys picked up the habit years ago while in the minor leagues and can't seem to shake it. Now, smokeless tobacco is banned in minor league baseball, but according to some current MiLB players, that ban is only loosely enforced.

Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is one veteran who can't seem to shake his dependency. The pinch of tobacco in his cheek is as much a part of his at-bat routine as spitting in his batting glove and slapping his hands together before digging in to the batter's box.
“I use it as a stimulator when I go to hit,” Ortiz said. “But the minute I finish my at-bat I spit it out. It keeps me smooth and puts me in a good mood. I don’t do it in the offseason. I don’t really like it that much, to be honest with you.”
It's a nasty habit and no member of the Red Sox will tell you otherwise. Most of the players that are suffering from addiction to smokeless tobacco say that they would quit if their family asked them to or if they thought they could without it affecting their game. Now it's silly to say that the use of smokeless tobacco actually can determine how well a guy plays the game, but some say it would be hard not to blame a slump on giving up the chaw.

There is one Boston player who said he didn't want to quit using chewing tobacco—outfielder, Jonny Gomes. He told Peter Abraham that he would quit if his family wanted him to.
“The kids aren’t old enough to realize what’s going on," Gomes said. "People are baffled I don’t do it in the offseason because I do it all the time when we’re playing. But I don’t have an addictive personality. There’s just something about it that goes with baseball. There’s something attached to hitting. I can’t describe it. Once I stop playing, I’ll never do it again. I know it’s a bad idea.”
Like Gomes, most players interviewed said they use smokeless tobacco only during the season and also claim that once they're done playing baseball, they'll never touch the stuff again. They all know how damaging it is—just ask former San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn who battled mouth cancer back in 2012. My hope is that all these guys quit in time to avoid any long-term effects.

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