Big League Chew?

April 04, 2011 | Erich Hawbaker

Sweepity sweep sweep! I’m not about to proclaim that happy days are here again, but I must admit that I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far from the 2011 Orioles. The pitching has been stellar, defense is excellent, and offense is good AND timely. And of course, the one year I don’t grab Brian Roberts for my fantasy team, he goes on a tear. Oh well. About now, I should be putting away my winter coat, only turning the heat on at night, and sharpening my axe and chainsaw in anticipation of pleasant evenings spent out in the meadow chopping firewood while listening to the Orioles on my truck’s radio. Instead, it snowed a little bit here in Franklin County PA again on Thursday, thunderstormed tonight, and the temperature isn’t supposed to get above 50 for at least another week and a half. Out like a lamb indeed…

And unfortunately, the weather is not the only thing raining on baseball’s parade this year. The NFL’s labor woes have been getting all the attention lately (enough people have already chimed in on what a jackass Adrian Peterson is, so I needn’t go into that), but MLB’s current labor agreement also expires at the end of this season. And Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, at the behest of the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids and US Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) has decided to push for a ban of smokeless tobacco to be included in the new contract.

The rationale for this is nothing new. Tobacco causes cancer, spitting can spread tuberculosis and other diseases, blah blah blah… As a semi-reformed smoker myself, I don’t necessarily disagree with any of their points. But what I do have a problem with is the nanny-state mentality behind it, and this notion that it is the job of this upright citizens brigade to tell grown men that they’re not allowed to use a legal product and to censor the image that players project to the public.

If the use of chewing tobacco in baseball is still running rampant today, I never noticed it. Thinking back to my own formative years, the only baseball player I can clearly remember seeing on the chaw was Randy Johnson. Perhaps this is because the only guy the TV camera really ever stays on long enough for you to observe it is the pitcher, but I don’t know. I just always assumed that most of them were either chomping on bubble gum or sunflower seeds, but I could have been wrong.

My childhood idol was Cal Ripken, and I know that he didn’t chew. I also know that it wouldn’t have made me any more likely to take it up if he had (my mother would have skinned me). I don’t really buy into the argument that baseball players using tobacco makes kids much more likely to do it. If that were true, then teenage alcoholism and venereal disease in America would have quadrupled in the last couple years thanks to Snooki. In the last 15 years or so, the anti-tobacco crusaders have managed to ban smoking just about everywhere else in Creation- restaurants and bars, college campuses, magazines, billboards, in movies and TV shows. And yet, the piece of the teenage population who use tobacco has steadily remained at around 20% for the last decade. In other words, erasing it from our popular culture has had little if any effect on the efforts to curtail its use by the younger general public.

And there’s another question I just have to ask. Where was Frank Lautenberg, Dick Durbin, and Bud Selig’s moral outrage when Tim Lincecum appeared on the cover of the November 2009 issue of “High Times” Magazine holding a baseball with a pot plant on it? If baseball players chewing tobacco is a bad influence for children, then a Cy Young Award winner endorsing the use of a drug that’s actually illegal should be way worse, right?

In cases like these, I will always err on the side of freedom and individual responsibility. I really wish Senators Lautenberg and Durbin would spend less time worrying about things like this and more time concentrating on getting our country’s trillion-dollar debt paid off. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” In other words, if baseball players or any other American adult wants to chew or smoke tobacco, it’s nobody’s business but theirs; and if the sight of brown spit offends you, feel free to go watch golf instead. Every pack of cigarettes and can of snuff sold in this country has a warning label on it that tells you of the health risks, and being free to make your own choice, even if it turns out to be a bad one, is what makes America great.