MLB Should Ban Chew; Everybody Loves Lucy

 

tony gwynn memorial
Dirk Hayhurst
More from Dirk

www.sportsonearth.com
If You Ban It, They Will Stop
Tony Gwynn’s death from salivary gland cancer should be a wakeup call to MLB to take a hard look at its tobacco rules and make them more stringent. (USA TODAY Sports)
Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language.

“These patches of white, irritated flesh here and here,” says the guy in front of us, waving a laser pen at PowerPoint slides, “that’s Leukoplakia. Remember what that looks like. If
you have it on your cheeks or gums, it can lead to mouth cancer. It’s bad, and you don’t want it.”

“It can do this to you.”

The next slide is the face of some poor bastard who had half his skull chopped out as a result of mouth cancer. It’s a still shot, with all the grizzly bits lit up by an unnecessary
flash from the camera that took it. The eyes are red and flat. Deep contrasting shadows in the hanging masses of cheek flesh. Scars on top of scars. A sheen off the tube at his throat.
No hair. No eyebrows. No hope in the lens-flared eyes.

It’s a mutant. Had to be. Frankenstein’s monster. Something you’d see in a horror flick. An abomination born of man’s flirtation with radioactivity come to punish us for our sins.

The room is gripped by silence as the monstrosity stares us down. Then, suddenly, the discreet, unmistakable hollow report of spit going into an empty plastic bottle echoes across the
room.

“Jesus Christ, man! How you gonna dip right in front of this guy?” says a minor leaguer sitting next to the discreet dipper.

We’d all been wrangled into the lunch hall for the mandatory meeting on substance abuse, one of many we minor leaguers would go through before spring training’s conclusion.

“What?” asks the dipper. “I’m a fucking addict, man. I dip. They show this stuff every year and we still dip. They show vaginas with herpes and gonorrhea every year, too, and we’re
still out there getting tail. Think of how many people play this game for a living and how many of them are dying from this stuff” — spits in bottle — “it is what it is, man. You’re
more likely to die on the trip to the clubhouse than from this shit.”

The stats say the number of smokeless tobacco abusers in baseball is down. It probably is. But it’s not going to go away. (And in case you’re wondering, I never used the stuff.) Even
if they exhumed Tony Gwynn’s body and paraded it around as evidence for the horrors of abusing the substance, baseball players will still dip, and more young players will start dipping
because of those players who remain dippers.

You can show them all the cooking brains on drugs, vacant jaw lines and dead heroes you want — addictions don’t make sense, and as long as the drugs are still available, expect people
to use them — especially if people in high power, high prestige occupations keep using the stuff.

Let’s be honest, most of the rules Major League Baseball has about substance abuse are in place not to protect the player, but to protect the industry. It says it wants a clean
reputation. It says it wants a cheater-free game. But what it really wants is the look and feel of an organic baseball experience that reflects the culture’s values without actually
having to reflect the culture’s values.

Baseball has never really been about the greater good. If it were, those players who do copious amounts of performance-enhancing drugs would be out of the game forever. Juiced-up
hitters wouldn’t serve vacation sentences and then sign multimillion-dollar contracts. And you wouldn’t see an ounce of smokeless tobacco anywhere near the playing field.

Instead, the two parties that make the game what it is — Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Union — are about their own best interests. Anyone outside that
dynamic doesn’t have a say in the matter until it becomes a brand liability. And often, when it does reach that level, when the game does need to save face, it pushed rules and
sanctions on the one party that has no presence at the negotiating table, the minor leagues.

Presently the testing for illegal substances in the minors is more random, rigorous and damning than it is at the major league level. To the point that “the dip police” can come into
the clubhouse and look through your lockers to see if you posses a smokeless product, and fine you and your manager accordingly. And in case you were wondering: “If they catch you with
the stuff and fine me because of your stupid mistake, well, you can bet your ass you’re paying my fine as well,” — said every minor league manager, ever.

But what is the point of these kind of increased prevention policies on smokeless tobacco if they’re put in place to maintain an image of non-endorsement? Why enforce it on a
population that has nothing to endorse, and virtually zero influence? Kids want to grow up to be big-league stars. That’s who they watch: big leaguers — not minor leaguers.

Furthermore, once a minor leaguer makes it to the bigs, he can pick the habit right back up again as long as he doesn’t pull a can out in front of a television camera and pinch out a
wad into his lower lip!

The first thing I did when I made it to the big leagues with the Padres in 2008 (after learning how to pack beer into garbage bags full of ice and carry it behind my fellow big
leaguers like one of Monty Python’s squires during team travel days) was learn how to pack the bullpen candy bag. First thing in that bag: Red Man Chew. And it had to be the Gold or
Silver blend, none of that original shit.

The Padres — yes, the same team that just gathered around the number of one of its legends, dead from smokeless-tobacco-related cancer — had cases of Red Man. My job as high man on
the bullpen totem pole was to make sure the candy bag’s supply was fresh because, you know, that stuff dries out quick, and when you’re making millions in the bigs, you want the
freshest of the fresh. Oh, and before a road trip, make sure you pack a couple boxes so that you always have fresh for the road games, too.

That’s just chew. Dip cans and smokes were also a part of the candy bag. Some you had to go out and buy yourself. God help you if you stood in the way of the older player who needed a
shot of big Nic before he took the hill. If you didn’t have his stuff, you weren’t just standing in the way of a guy’s fix, you were standing in the way of his career.

The guys in the pen would regularly go into the underground bunker in Petco Park’s outfield and blow darts between innings. Because they could. Because who cares, it’s part of their
routine and that routine obviously works because, hey, I’m in the big leagues, now light me up motherfucker!

Another nice “we’re helping them quit” play by the forces of MLB is how they actually try to provide assistance to those who want to quit: Teams all screen for Leukoplakia at spring
training. They hold educational lectures that show grizzly worst-case scenario shots. They even offer products designed to help fend off the urge to consume smokeless tobacco.

Team training rooms have dispensers for things like BaccOff, KikIt, Smokey Mountain (fake) Snuff. Even Major League Coffee Dip — it’s shaped like a baseball to make it more baseball-
player friendly. But while those products taste (somewhat) like the real thing and (kinda) look like the real thing, they don’t grease your body with the chemicals like the real thing.
They are not drugs. They are products sold as facsimiles to the real thing you need a license to buy and consume. They’re a graduated form of Big League Chew, another product that
gains its market penetration by hanging on the tail of baseball’s long-standing association with tobacco.

Which bring us to the crux of this: Smokeless tobacco is part of baseball’s culture. It has been for more than 100 years, ever since kids could get baseball cards in tobacco products.
But for whatever reason, it’s a part of its culture that baseball just doesn’t want to shake — even in the wake of one its most beloved player’s deaths. That’s odd considering that
the argument to get rid of smokeless tobacco is eerily similar to so many of the other arguments about policies baseball has had already.

What if, say, using tobacco was cheating? Then would Baseball and the MLBPA act to change the system? If everyone felt that those consuming smokeless tobacco were gaining an unfair
type of chemical advantage over those who didn’t want to take the risk of putting it in their bodies? Would they outlaw it then?

What if, say, using smokeless tobacco was a moral and ethical issue? If it were painted as a dangerous substance, and letting stars consume it wantonly in front of our youth was, in a
way, endorsing its consumption? Would they outlaw it then?

What if, say, using smokeless tobacco wasn’t playing the game the right way? Would they outlaw it then?

As it stands now, using smokeless tobacco is playing the game the right way, and the message being broadcast is that smokeless tobacco, with its rich, creamy, cancer-inducing blend of
toxins and poisons, is less dangerous to the baseball-consuming world than HGH, Adderall, pot, alcohol and gambling.

You may say you’re only hurting yourself with your decision to use smokeless tobacco. And you’re right. You’re only hurting you, and even then, you may get lucky and never face the
complications that can arise. You may also do steroids and never get caught, or deal with any of the residual health issues. You may gamble, drink and abuse prescription drugs and
never see any adverse effects.

But, if you’re going to make rules that say one group of people can’t abuse a substance because it’s about health, prevention and maintaining social integrity, but the other, more
powerful, more influential group can, because it’s about individual choice and respect, expect me to call you out on it.

It is utterly, indefensibly hypocritical for the players union and the players in it to, on the grounds of moral integrity, outlaw the consumption of, and association with a substance
for one group of people but not follow through with the policies themselves. Please, if you’re going agree to rules, make them count or don’t make them at all.

I’d like to believe that when the next round of mandatory meetings about substance abuse happens, the pics they inevitably show of Tony Gywnn won’t be ones connected to making the
right personal choice thanks to a scare tactic, but to an initiative that helps the addicts that baseball’s long-standing relationship with smokeless tobacco has helped create. I’d
like to believe that it will be a message of accountability. Anything else would just be more of the same, don’t-make-us-look-bad bullshit that so many of baseball’s rules are already
known to be.

A legend is dead. Honor him with accountability.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

lucy li
Peter Richmond
More from Peter

www.sportsonearth.com
Keeping It In Perspective

Lucy Li is the youngest golfer to play in a U.S. Women’s Open, and we would be wise to remember that as she exits the spotlight.

I know, I know: That’s why they call it an “Open.” Once a year, anyone who can make it through the qualifying rounds can go for the trophy in a major golf event, which is a terrific
athletic ideal in a sports landscape that’s increasingly burdened with commerciality. As long as there’s an Open, the ancient and noble sport can remind us that the word amateur
doesn’t have to carry its modern connotation of lesser.

And, yes, I know that with five million fewer golfers than there were a decade ago, and with Tiger’s luster long lost, Lucy Li, who shot a pair of 78s in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open,
is exactly what the game needs: a charming young golfer of extraordinary talent. But somewhere, in a sanitarium in a parallel universe, Holden Caulfield is not happy.

Lucy Li has game, and she hits an inordinate number of fairways (averaging 235 yards, thank you) and can lay an approach shot up there as if hand-delivered with a personal note. And
she plays quickly and aggressively and seldom leaves a putt short, and …

Lucy Li is 11 years old.

She is a larval human being, wading into a white-hot pool.

We are on a precarious perch here.

For a little perspective, if Li were in a public school, instead of being home schooled by Stanford, she’d be in sixth grade. Sixth grade is most often considered the last grade in
“elementary” school, because, as a human being, kids her age have elementary skills — not just at reading, but at reading the adult world’s cues. At some point, wise heads realized
all sorts of things are still undeveloped in that young brain — from the judgment chip to the cause-and-effect chip — and put sixth grade in the “elementary” category.

Stanford sounds impressive, but Stanford is for post-adolescents roaming a stunningly beautiful campus, mixing with people they’ve never met and tossing about ideas they’ve never
explored. Online? Walled off from the real world? At the sixth-grade level? Maybe she’ll memorize some dates, kick a little calculus. Learning how to get along with people who aren’t
like you? Running up against the speed bumps your peers are facing and overcoming them? Can you do that online?

When the golf is all over, can you go back in time and revisit the childhood you never had?

* * *

Of course she entrances us. Eleven-year-old girls will do that. When an anchorwoman says, “She delights me,” that tells us pretty clearly that observers are concerned with their own
delight, not the young golfer’s.

Of course she appeals to us, her jaded audience. Eleven-year-old girls are still innocent. They remind us of how nice it used to be, back when we were oblivious to the cliff just over
the horizon.

So from today on in, as she plays her game and delights in it, it’s on us to make sure that no one robs her of that innocence. Which is why I bring up Holden Caulfield. In Catcher in
the Rye, J.D. Salinger’s protagonist considers the poem “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye,” by Robert Burns, and decides his role in life is to keep kids from falling off a cliff as they frolic
through a nearby field of rye grass, oblivious to the danger. This is Holden’s metaphor for doing everything he can to save his sister Phoebe from an adult world that’s full of
“phonies,” which is Holden’s favorite word.

We shouldn’t conflate Lucy Li’s precocious physical prowess with psychological maturity, nor should we mistake her ability to drive like a woman twice her age for the ability to handle
media pressure like a woman twice her age. We should at least ask ourselves, at some point: “Who is best served by this entertainment equation? The little girl, or the big world,
looking for a storyline?”

Is our smiley-faced fascination with her storyline totally honest, or is there an element of Holden’s phoniness when we seize upon it? Cbssports.com’s headline read, “An 11-year-old is
owning the U.S. Women’s Open,” while coverage in The New York Times and on espn.com virtually ignored the leader, Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 women’s golfer in the world.

I think it’s possible that we’re using Lucy Li in a way that might not benefit her down the road. Yes, there are precedents. Lexi Thompson and Morgan Pressel debuted in the Open at the
age of 12, and both won majors before turning 20. But isn’t there a Ty Tryon or Aree Song for every Thompson and Pressel? Michelle Wie is hitting her stride, thankfully. Jennifer
Capriati, Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin have not. One question I’d like to ask each of them: Were you allowed to have a childhood?

“It wasn’t like playing with an 11-year-old kid,” one of Li’s partners said after Thursday’s first round. “It was like playing with a professional golfer.”

That doesn’t sound good. Remember sixth grade? I do. I was a sixth grader then, and now I’m an adult. It took me the usual amount of years, and I think it was supposed to.

* * *

To be clear, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with an 11-year-old possessed of potential greatness getting a big stage for a couple of days. I’m not questioning the LPGA’s
willingness to market her, or the networks’ eagerness to do so. I’m not even asking for restraint. Talk her up when she she’s outdriving her competitors. She deserves it.

I’m just prodding everyone currently surrounding this larval human being, from parents to teachers to coaches to media, to be her Holden Caulfield for the next several years. To
consider whether she should be out in that rye, not far from the cliff, and that perhaps she should go back to safer, amateur fields, where she can progress as a human — not a
storyline — a little more naturally.

Another question: In grabbing her life for ourselves, can we make sure we’re not leeching some of her purity away? She may seem cool and composed right now, but don’t think for a
second that isn’t because, 11 years out of a womb, she isn’t relying on us to protect her. That’s why she’s free to be Li.

Sixth-grade children are delightfully free to be innocent because they know we have their backs. They have the security of knowing that we’ll keep them from harm, even if they
themselves cannot. You don’t have to direct a sixth-grade girl as the lead in a high school musical and see her goofing around with her best friend 10 seconds before she’s supposed to
take the stage (as I have) to realize that. You don’t have to see sixth graders starting a food fight at your lunch table to know that they’re living in a lyrical land, because they
know we’re looking out for them. If we — the folks at the head of the lunch table — can’t save the children, then what’s the point of hoping for a better future?

I can hear you protesting: “Lighten up. It’s one kid, it’s one tournament.” But on the second day, after Lucy Li parred out to finish her first two days in the spotlight at 16 over,
emphatically missing the cut, did you see the expression on her once bubbly, moony face? She was not smiling. She was a tad miffed. She wore the expression of someone who is very hard
on herself, which is just fine for an adult who has just messed up. How about the expression she wore after that final putt? Downslant of mouth, trying to hide the anger and
frustration. That look should never cross the face of an elementary schooler, whose future promises many cool things, as long as she’s not deprived of them.

It is out of her hands now. She’s way too young, as any child psychologist would tell you, to make rational decisions about her own future. That leaves us.

* * *

Golf is a special sport — an ancient sport, a wise sport — and with that come special responsibilities, unlike the role of baseball, football or basketball. This is not high
entertainment, nor (as we refer to age) is it Olympic gymnastics, where the little girls and their teams and their coaches and managers and agents are locked into a paradigm that makes
you want to weep every four years.

Golf belongs to a different time and place. It’s an adult of a sport, but in letting 11-year-old girls into the Open, it isn’t acting like one. In allowing even one 11-year-old girl
into its big-money game, Big Golf is like a little kid grabbing for whatever it wants — headlines and media exposure — without thinking about the consequences.

The rules, though, will remain unchallenged: No matter your age, if you’re good, you can play. So once we’ve devoured and chewed up and spit out Lucy Li’s storyline — once the home-
schooled kid has gone home, probably trying not to be devastated — we’d better make sure that we protect her the rest of the way. Because no matter how far and accurately she launches
those tee shots, I have a feeling she’s gonna need it.

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