Jun 18, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; A jersey of San Diego Padres former player Tony Gwynn (19) hangs in the dugout during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Petco Park. Gwynn passed away on June 16th. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

MLB: Do away with smokeless tobacco for good

Former MLB great Tony Gwynn‘s death, while not completely unexpected, still sent shockwaves around the sporting world. The cancer that Gwynn had so valiantly fought finally got the best of him, and took him from us far too soon. The culprit – according to Gwynn – was his habit of using smokeless tobacco.

There aren’t many times when the general public should push for a professional sports league to regulate what its players can and cannot do, but if there was ever a cause that was worthy of that type of support, a ban on smokeless tobacco would hit high on the list.

Players can’t chew on the butt-end of a stogie out in the field. They can’t light up a cigarette, or even keep one tucked behind their ear. They can’t even haul one of those ridiculous vapor-cigarettes out of the dugout. So why in the name of Turk Wendell‘s licorice does the league allow dip and chaw to be used by players? Patrons can’t even dip snuff in the stands, but yet the players can pack a gob of disgusting ground tobacco between their cheek and gum.

What sense does that make in what alternate universe?

In truth, the league isn’t completely to blame (as much as I love throwing Bud Selig under a fleet of buses), it’s the players and their union that shoulder most of the responsibility for this not being stopped.

According to a story from CBS Sports columnist Jon Heyman, the league attempted to ban smokeless tobacco during the last set of negotiations with the players union, but was stopped dead in their tracks.

From Heyman’s story:

MLB pushed for a ban at the bargaining table at the last CBA talks, and while only one-third of MLB players still use the stuff, it was said to be one of the last things to resolve on the table. A ban realistically never had much hope.

MLB is said by people involved in the talks to actually have “pushed very hard” for the banning of smokeless tobacco in those discussions, with the players’ union pushing back just as hard to keep it legal in the game. The union, driven on this issue by its players, ultimately won the point, though some rule refinements were intended to lessen usage and the harm caused by it.

The argument between MLB bigwigs and the union and its players was said to have grown “contentious” at some point, at least in the eyes of MLB officials. And one MLB person, asked who among the players appeared to be against the banning proposal, noted, “It was all of them.”

So, the government can ban average Joe from smoking or using tobacco products just about anywhere other than his back yard, but MLB can’t get the message through to the MLBPA that this just might be a wise thing to do?

And if “all” of the players were against banning smokeless tobacco, then we have a seriously short-sighted, uneducated and selfish bunch of players in this game. And if it was all of them, it’s certainly not now, as pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Addison Reed announced that they were voluntarily giving up their smokeless tobacco habits.

May 13, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Will they be the first of many dominoes to fall? Unfortunately, doubtful.

To Bud Selig’s credit (ouch..that hurt), smokeless tobacco and steroids were two of the top things on his agenda during the last CBA talks. The American Cancer Society and other national health agencies, urged MLB – and in particular the union – to ban smokeless tobacco as a way to promote healthier living and a better example for the youth.

Isn’t that one of baseball’s regular rallying cries? – “We have to set a good example for the kids.”

Nine major health organizations sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, and Tony Clark, the Executive Director of the MLBPA practically begging them to agree to a complete ban of any tobacco products, via Forbes.com.

“Major League Baseball and the Players Association can honor Tony Gwynn’s memory by agreeing to a complete prohibition on tobacco use at ballparks and on camera. Our organizations urge you to do so without delay.

Use of smokeless tobacco endangers the health of Major League ballplayers. It also sets a terrible example for the millions of young people who watch baseball at the ballpark or on TV and often see players and managers using tobacco”

You can see the complete text of the letter and all the organizations who signed it here.

So how did a players union, who is supposed to be looking out for the betterment of their membership and to create a more likeable image for a group of players that has fought back from public discountenance since the strike that cancelled the 1994 postseason, just sit back and say “no, there’s no reason to ban these products.”

Even the minor leagues, who are generally eons behind MLB in terms of progress, have seen fit to ban smokeless tobacco. The best that could be done at the major league level was a fine if the tin of snuff was visible.

Ouch, you’re killing me Smalls.

Tobacco is an addictive product, that’s been proven time and time again. And MLB baseball players are grown men (in terms of age), so the decision really should be up to them as adults. They obviously acknowledge that there is an issue, or they would never have agreed to fines for not hiding their habit.

It seems that everybody, including the late Mr. Gwynn, realize that this is something that needs to be done…everybody except the players and their litigious representation.

Nobody is asking the players to give up their civil liberties or their right to put whatever disgusting product in their mouths that they want. All that is being asked is that they voluntarily agree to a ban on the use of such products while they are in their uniforms, representing their teams and MLB.

But, as one representative of the players union succinctly put it, “It ain’t gonna happen.”

And that may turn out to be one of the saddest truths of all.

Tags: Bud Selig MLB MLBPA Tony Gwynn

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