Tony Gwynn's death has caused another MLB player to rethink his use of chewing tobacco. Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals ace who grew up in San Diego and played at San Diego State under Gwynn, told reporters that he plans to quit using smokeless tobacco.
Gwynn died last week after battling salivary gland cancer, which he attributed to years of chewing tobacco while playing ball. He was 54. Smokeless tobacco is popular among ballplayers and has been for years, a tradition of the game just like peanuts and Cracker Jack.
Strasburg hasn't given up tobacco yet. He was actually chewing it Monday while telling reporters about his decision. He cited his daughter as another of the reasons he plans to quit. From MLB.com:
"I think it's a disgusting habit, looking back on it," the Nationals right-hander said on Monday. "I was pretty naive when I started. Just doing it here and there, I didn't think it was going to be such an addiction. ... Bottom line is, I want to be around for my family. This is something that can affect people the rest of your life. [Chewing tobacco is] so prevalent in this game. It's something we all kind of grew up doing."
Arizona Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed, another San Diego State product, quit chewing tobacco the day Gwynn died. Strasburg said he started using chewing tobacco before ever meeting Gwynn. Players use it for a number of reasons, to feel more alert on the field, more comfortable or simply because it's part of their routine.
Gwynn's death causing players to change their mind, one by one, may be the only immediate affect on the culture of baseball. Neither the league nor its player's union sound keen on changing their rules on smokeless tobacco.
Players aren't allowed to have chewing tobacco tins in their pockets on the field, and they're not allowed to chew while doing TV interviews. Futher, teams aren't allowed to provide smokeless tobacco to players. The player's union "discourages" the use of tobacco but says its focus is on educating players rather than trying to ban players from using it. Minor leagues, however, are restricted from chewing.
Another high-profile ex-baseball star sounds like he's trying to kick smokeless tobacco too. That's Chipper Jones, who has tweeted about quitting the past two days, but hasn't explicitly said his decision was influenced by Gwynn's death.
This won't be the last we hear of this. Gwynn recorded an infomercial of sorts about the dangers of smokeless tobacco before his death. It will be released this season by MLB.
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