Long etched in baseball’s history are superstitions, traditions, unwritten rules and tobacco usage. News of Tony Gwynn’s death Monday reverberated throughout baseball as one of its most storied players was tragically lost at the age of 54.
Gwynn, who died of cancer, played 20 seasons in the Majors, all with the San Diego Padres and was a user of smokeless tobacco. With his habit of chewing tobacco throughout his career, Gwynn linked his mouth cancer to the addiction.
Josh Beckett, who was a friend of Gwynn’s and though aware of Gwynn’s usage, said it wouldn’t lead to him no longer chewing, via Steve Dilbeck and Mike Digiovanna of the LA Times:
I could sit here and lie to you and tell you yes, but unfortunately it would be just a straight lie.”
While Beckett admitted he is likely to continue with the habit, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly no longer carries on with the practice:
I just stopped,” he said. “From your own health, you don’t want to take chances. Then from a role model standpoint, the TV is always on you and if you’re dipping, kids are seeing it. It just got to the point where I didn’t want to be that guy.”
Outfielder Scott Van Slyke said the dipping comes with a benefit, but admitted he would refrain from doing so if necessary:
I like it,” he said. “The calming effect, something in your mouth, spitting. I don’t know. If I got to the point where I said enough is enough, I don’t see that being a problem.”
Chewing tobacco is not permitted in the minors and though allowed at the major-league level, teams cannot provide it to their players. Whatever may be to blame, the toxic habit has been carried on for years. However, with baseball losing one of its most prolific hitters and revered players, it may finally be enough to shift the culture.
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