Is there anything more colorful than spring training? The lush
green grass? The rich honey infield? The cancerous white lesions
forming inside the players' tobacco-caked lips?
Hey, kids! Time to start imitating your favorite major leaguer by
cramming tobacco in your mouth, spitting brown streams on your
uniform and giving yourself 50 times the chance to get oral
cancer as kids who grow up not chewing!
Everybody sing, Take me out to the graveyard....
It's so funny, it's sick. A player can't smoke on the field or
in the dugout, yet he can chew or dip during the game, even
though using spit tobacco for 30 minutes provides the same
amount of nicotine as four cigarettes. Can you imagine every
player who chews or dips having four cigarettes sticking out of
his mouth instead?
The spit tobacco industry likes to call its products smokeless
tobacco. It wants us to hear "smokeless" and think "harmless."
But half of the people who get cancer from using smokeless
tobacco die within five years of being diagnosed.
And it's not just baseball. Golfers on the PGA Tour are giving
themselves fat lips. David Duval likes to put in a big pinch
after a birdie. Rodeo riders will forget their horse before
their Skoal. Girl athletes are loading up, too. They pack it in
their armpits and their vaginas. They also poke little pinholes
between their toes and pack it in there. "In 30 seconds," says
Neil Romano of the National Spit Tobacco Education Program
(NSTEP), "the rush hits their head." And no unsightly prom dress
Spit tobacco is banned on the college and minor league levels of
baseball, but in the majors it's Welcome to the big leagues,
Rook! Let's get you started on a nice big hole in your lip! The
players' association says any attempt by owners to control
tobacco use would be a collective bargaining issue. They will
defend to the death their members' right to die.
Of 2,000 minor leaguers examined last year by dentists retained
by NSTEP, 300 had lesions inside their mouths, including 21 that
appeared cancerous or precancerous. NSTEP also says that one in
10 high school boys is using spit tobacco. I did when I was a
kid, too. Nearly everybody on my high school baseball team
chewed. We'd sit in the cafeteria, filling up Big Gulp cups with
our great expectorations. We bet a kid named Bullet Bob 50 bucks
he wouldn't drink a full cup. He did it. Made like a bullet
heading for the bathroom, too.
When you find out what chew can do to your face, it'll make you
want to hurl. Former major league outfielder Bill Tuttle chewed
until he lost his teeth, his taste buds, his right cheekbone,
his hearing and, finally, his life.
Umpire Doug Harvey worked the bigs with a cheek full of chew for
31 years. He retired with a lump in his throat--not from emotion
but from the chaw. He had 60 radiation treatments, dropped from
205 pounds to 145 and fed himself cans of Ensure through a
straw-sized hole in his breast bone just to stay alive.
Recovered, he's now told 156,070 school kids to stay off spit
People who've been through both say quitting spit tobacco is
twice as hard as quitting cigarettes. Ask Arizona Diamondbacks
righthander Curt Schilling, co-MVP of last year's World Series.
Four years ago doctors removed a precancerous lesion on the
inside of his lower lip, and he can't quit dipping. His New
Year's resolution was to quit. He lasted three days. His father
died of lung cancer and his wife just spent a year battling it,
and he still can't quit. "It's so unbelievably hard," says
Schilling, who has tried sunflower seeds, gum, nicotine patches,
hypnosis and counseling. "I've got to quit--I want to see my
kids grow up, and I want them to see me with a full face--but I
haven't been able to."
These are big, tough guys getting whipped by a little tin can.
Schilling's teammate Greg Colbrunn can't stop either. "I've
tried," he says. "I wish I'd never started." Raves teammate
Brian Anderson, also a dipper, "It's dirty, it's filthy, and
your breath reeks." Hey, where'd all the groupies go?
Ads for spit tobacco are everywhere, including in this magazine.
The players' association allows its members to use spit tobacco
in front of millions of kids. You've heard of National Smoke Out
Day. Somebody needs to start a National Chew Out Day. Anybody
dipping in front of kids gets chewed out but good.
Then again, maybe Bullet Bob hit on the best way of all to quit.
You spit it, you chug it.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
Big, tough guys like Curt Schilling are getting whipped by a
little tin can of tobacco.