Dip: Baseball’s Ugly Sidekick
By Brendan Larson
Lippers, langers, hammers, fatties, full moons, horseshoes, chad, plug, snuff, pinches, wads, chew, chaw. You can call it whatever you want. There’s mint, wintergreen, straight, fine cut, long cut, wide cut. There’s grape, green apple, peach, and citrus. There’s Cope, Grizz, Kayak, Longhorn, Kodiak, Skoal, Stokers, and Redman. You can find it behind the counter at your local 7-11 or in the back pocket of most baseball pants.
It was Grizzly Wintergreen Long Cut and I can personally thank baseball and curiosity for landing a heap of 28 cancer-causing chemicals into my lower lip. I was fifteen years old and closer to being in middle school than I was to being legally able to buy the stuff. I remember sitting in a teammate’s car who was a senior thinking to myself, “Don’t swallow any of it and don’t make a face because you’re cool and they think you’re cool.” The buzz came in like a typhoon and knocked me on my ass. My sweaty palms reached out for an empty water bottle; a valuable utensil for baseball players or anyone who chews. All the while I sat in that old white BMW with seven words flooding my mind: “Why the hell am I doing this?”
On June 16th of 2014 Tony Gwynn lost his battle with cancer. The media, rightly so, focused on his constant boyish enthusiasm and his consistency at the plate that was unprecedented and may never be replicated again. SportCenter flashed photos of his signature ear-to-ear smile and reminisced about the career of one of the purest hitters of all time. What failed to be spotlighted was the lethal habit that is imbedded in baseball and took the life of Gwynn.
Cancer was the medical term to blanket the vice that killed Tony Gwynn. Gwynn attributed his cancer of the salivary gland to his decades of chewing tobacco use. There is no dancing around the reality. The thought that a baseball ritual that my teammates and heroes partake in caused the death of a legend rips my stomach apart and forms a boulder in my throat.The cementing of this aching feeling in my gut happened while reading Curt Schilling’s story on his excruciating battle with dip. http://espn.go.com/boston/mlb/story/_/id/11754095/curt-schilling-not-hiding-scars
A plethora of studies found that roughly one-third of all major league baseball players habitually use chewing tobacco and have no intention of stopping. That is roughly 450 major league baseball players. That is 450 men who play night in and night out on television in front of millions of viewers. That is 450 men who children, teens, and adults idolize. That is 450 men living the dream of every little league baseball player. That is 450 men who are imitated by kids from across the world.
Chewing tobacco has been banned from every level of baseball except for Major League Baseball. With the current agreement that will not change until at least 2016. Between now and then tobacco will have taken the lives of 5.9 million people. 5.9 million people. So, why is smokeless tobacco still allowed on the game’s biggest stage?
Now, I am not out here to be a hypocrite. I used chewing tobacco for a while and will not judge or demonize those who continue to chew. However, professional athletes and professional organizations should be held to a higher standard. If you are making hundreds of millions of dollars because fans come out everyday to watch you play a game, you owe something back to those fans. You owe it to the kid religiously staring in front of the television with his glove on who would give anything to meet you and get your signature. Because that is the life on which you are leaving a significant impression.
A role model is defined as a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. Imitated. Major League Baseball needs to make a statement. It must not allow starting pitchers to be seen on television putting a wad of tobacco into their lower lip. It must not allow base runners to be watched by hundreds of thousands of children spitting dip juice onto the infield.
What boggles my mind is that there are hardly any employers that allow you to use chewing tobacco on the job, yet Major League Baseball does and it is arguably one of the most visible businesses in the world. Some things just do not make sense.