New York became the latest city to ban all forms of tobacco from sporting events, which is going to come down hard on the Mets and Yankees who are quite literally addicted to it. Players are handling the pending law in one of two ways: either proactively, by attempting to quit, or by wondering just how anyone can stop them or enforce the ban if they go right on chewing and dipping.
The legislation passed the New York City Council by a 44-3 vote yesterday, and will go into law soon after it’s inevitably signed by the mayor. With the ordinance, New York follows Chicago, Boston, and all of California in banning smokeless tobacco from ticketed sporting events, with Toronto next up on the list.
At Yankees camp yesterday, a sign hung in the clubhouse urging “Anyone Wanting Nicotine Replacement Therapy Supplies (Gum, Lozenges, or Patches) - To Kick The Habit - Please See [trainer] Steve Donohue.” And while the players know quitting is obviously the best option, it’s not the easiest. And some are irked about the law being applied solely to them.
Andrew Miller, a Yankee reliever who no longer uses smokeless tobacco, pointed out: “It’s a completely legal substance. It’s available to purchase at any 7-Eleven.”
One Yankee who said he did not use the substance, Chase Headley, wondered, “How is it legal around town, around wherever else, but just at the ballpark it’s not?”
The measure isn’t only about public health, of course—though that’s part of it. The fewer people who smoke or use tobacco products, the lower health care costs are for everyone. But in spirit, this ordinance and others like it around the country are aimed at keeping kids from wanting to emulate what they see their favorite players doing in the dugout with a giant wad in their cheeks.
“It amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars of free advertising for a product that hasn’t been been allowed to advertise on TV for over 40 years,” said Councilman Corey Johnson.
The most realistic outcome is that baseball players continue to use, only just not where anyone can see them. Jim Leyland used to head up into the tunnel to smoke cigarettes during games; Carlos Beltran says players will do the same, just not out in the open because “Major League Baseball has cameras all over the place.”
But even if players don’t retreat up the tunnel or to the clubhouse to dip, they’re openly questioning just how on earth anyone is going to give out fines for it.
“I would like to see how they are going to enforce that,” said one Mets player who regularly uses smokeless tobacco. “If somebody sees you chewing, will they reach over the railing and hand you a ticket when you are walking off the field?”
Excellent question. Of course, some players might be easier to catch than others. The New York Times’ story on the tobacco ban may have buried its lede:
Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes often smokes cigarettes around the park; that, too, would be banned by the new legislation. Last season, Juan Uribe, then with the Mets, mixed his smokeless tobacco with honey and Kahlua, kept it in a large plastic bag and shared it with other players.
That, honestly, sounds delicious.
MLB, spurred in large part by the death of Tony Gwynn from a lifetime of chewing tobacco, is attempting to gradually phase it out of the game on its own. Tobacco is now banned from minor league ballparks, and it’d be cleaner, less gross, and safer for players if the same happened in the majors. It won’t, because MLB players have a union, and there’s something fairly icky about telling grown-ass men they can’t make the choice to use legal products.
Of course, concession to personal liberty is counterweighed, maybe even outweighed, by the fact that using tobacco in a position as visible as a ballplayer’s isn’t only hurting himself.
At the Players’ Tribune last year, Curt Schilling wrote a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Your dad is going to die in five years. You know what’s going to kill him? A heart attack brought on by heart disease and lung cancer caused by tobacco use. He’ll die right in front of you. You two will be alone and together for his final minutes on earth. The night before he passes away, you two are going to sit up and talk until 4 a.m. You will chalk up the conversation as peculiar, but years later it will hit you like a ton of bricks. It will hit you like a radio message, boat or helicopter. He knew. It’s why the things he told you that night were things only a dad can tell a son. He knew.
Right now, you don’t listen to the messages God gives you. And if you don’t alter this habit, in 32 years you will be diagnosed with cancer.
Finally, consider this: How many kids will start dipping over the next 32 years because they saw you do it?