Hello, Ed Lee. Been having a hellish week? Allow me to further ruin it with another reality splash: When the average annual salary of a major-league baseball player tops $4 million, sorry, but the Giants and other teams won’t stop using smokeless tobacco at AT&T Park just because the mayor imposes a ban.
They will dare you to send cops into the clubhouses. They will challenge you to stop a game and order Jake Peavy or Madison Bumgarner, Southern boys who’ve been putting pinches between their cheeks and gums since their pre-teens, to leave the stadium. And should any of the team’s 40,000 worshippers actually file an official complaint about a violated ordinance, well, I’m guessing that player will simply pay off the citation and load up again next time.
“It’ll have to be a lofty fine. Just because of the money guys are making. Or they’re not going to stop,” said Peavy, who set off a national discussion with his comments in the New York Times.
Not that Lee’s ban is a bad one. On the contrary, he is trying to save lives, trying to teach impressionable young baseball fans about the fatal effects of chewing tobacco. It is beyond my comprehension why any ballplayer, having seen Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn die last year from mouth cancer that he blamed on decades of dipping and chewing, wouldn’t try his damndest to kick the habit. With Los Angeles, Boston and other cities also expected to adopt the ban — the San Francisco ordinance begins on Jan. 1 and extends to all The City’s sports venues — tobacco users everywhere should view this as a convenient cold-turkey opportunity. Bumgarner, who says he started chewing in the fifth grade in the North Carolina backwoods, is capable of Herculean achievements on the field, as we saw last October when he lifted a franchise, city and sport onto his vast shoulders and won a World Series pretty much solo.
But though he expresses confidence he can give up dip anytime he chooses, MadBum may be a big wimp when it comes to quitting permanently.
“Hopefully it will be a positive thing for us players. It’s not an easy thing to stop doing, but I support The City,” he said.
So why doesn’t he stop? Right now? Before his next start at AT&T on Tuesday night? Because for these guys, it’s a routine, an idiosyncrasy, a superstition — a crutch. When you are Jake Peavy and Madison Bumgarner and you’ve amassed fame and fortune throwing a baseball for years, their thought process is this: Why change any part of the regimen, even the chewing tobacco? They say it provides a comfort zone and relieves stress, but such logic speaks to a foolish youthful invincibility — that they’re in their 20s and 30s and will live forever.
They should visit the manager’s office for advice on the matter. Bruce Bochy stopped dipping in 2011, with the help of a hypnotherapist, and says he hasn’t touched the stuff after more than three decades of use. “It’s a step in the right direction,” he said of Lee’s ban. “I think it can be a good thing.”
And then, like Bumgarner, he follows with the caveat. “It’s going to be hard to enforce. It’s a tough habit to break,” Bochy said.
If they don’t want to follow a skipper who lost nothing off his game after quitting — the Giants have won two championships since — they should hear out Curt Schilling. The former pitching great, who fought oral cancer after using smokeless tobacco throughout his career, has urged Major League Baseball to issue steep fines to the chew crew. Told that Peavy and Bumgarner say they’ve been using since grade school, Schilling, an ESPN baseball analyst, didn’t preach as much as he laid out some mean facts.
Gentlemen, you’re probably going to get cancer.
“You’ll lose your sense of taste, you’ll lose your sense of smell, your gums will bleed, your teeth will rot — that is, if you’re lucky,” Schilling said. “If you’re not, you will wind up in the hospital receiving radiation above the neck.”
As he did. Remember Schilling’s unbearable pain in 2004, when he pitched on a ravaged ankle in what always will be known as the “bloody sock” game? That was nothing compared to the torture of radiation and chemotherapy. “I thought multiple times during my treatment, ‘If this happens again, I’m not going to treat it. I can’t do this again.’ The pain was beyond anything I could even comprehend,” he told a Boston radio station. “I always try to use this analogy: You go to the hospital if you’re sick and they’ll say, ‘OK, how do you feel from a pain point, one to 10?’ The ankle was a five, this was a 500. There were some nights where quitting and giving up was potentially a viable option for me.”
Yet he, too, is skeptical that many players will heed his lesson. “I hope everybody stops, but it’s naive to think that’s going to happen,” Schilling said. “The way to enforce it is to either make a violation impact the outcome of the game or levy a significant financial penalty. If you’re caught, it’s a $100,000 fine. Because if you turn around and make it a $100 or $500 fine, somebody’s going to write a check at the beginning of the year and not care. And that can’t happen.”
Nothing is comical about the subject, but it’s laughable to think City Hall will send a police squad to the ballpark and order Peavy to spit out the wad, then slap him with a $100,000 fine. These are the Giants, The City’s pride and dignity, with a CEO, Larry Baer, who is better positioned politically than the embattled Lee. Expect Baer and Bochy to meet with the players in spring training and decide how it will be handled. If Bumgarner quits, as he says he will, great. If Peavy and others can’t quit, then there will be a nationwide media watch on what happens when Jake dips on San Francisco soil. The fine, most likely, would be a few hundred bucks, at most.
Rather than fight The City, it would be much wiser if tobacco chewers on the Giants and other teams — who also will be subjected to the local ban — just thought about the kids who are watching them. “Athletes are role models for impressionable youth,” said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the organization that convinced Lee to sign the ordinance. “When baseball stars use smokeless tobacco, the kids who look up to them are much more likely to as well. Our national pastime should have nothing to do with promoting a deadly and addictive product.”
The problem, as always, is that the players are represented by a powerful union. And if they don’t want to stop using tobacco, the union will defend their rights. But visions of young fans — in the stands, at home — should be the overwhelming priority. While we’re at it, how about launching a campaign to ban alcohol sales at stadiums? That won’t happen, not as long as beer companies are major advertisers, which feeds the hypocrisy that engulfs sports in America.
Still, this is a start, healthy and worthwhile. Let’s hope the players don’t put their money where their mouth is. Let’s hope, the next time they place those death clumps inside their cheeks, they hear Curt Schilling and think about Tony Gwynn.AT&T ParkBruce Bochychewing tobaccoCurt SchillingEd LeeJake PeavyMadison BumgarnerSan FranciscoSan Francisco GiantsTony Gwynn