Is there anything more colorful than spring training? The lush green grass? The rich honey infield? The cancerous white lesions forming inside the players' tobacco-caked lips?
Hey, kids! Time to start imitating your favorite major leaguer by cramming tobacco in your mouth, spitting brown streams on your uniform and giving yourself 50 times the chance to get oral cancer as kids who grow up not chewing!
Everybody sing, Take me out to the graveyard....
It's so funny, it's sick. A player can't smoke on the field or in the dugout, yet he can chew or dip during the game, even though using spit tobacco for 30 minutes provides the same amount of nicotine as four cigarettes. Can you imagine every player who chews or dips having four cigarettes sticking out of his mouth instead?
The spit tobacco industry likes to call its products smokeless tobacco. It wants us to hear "smokeless" and think "harmless." But half of the people who get cancer from using smokeless tobacco die within five years of being diagnosed.
And it's not just baseball. Golfers on the PGA Tour are giving themselves fat lips. David Duval likes to put in a big pinch after a birdie. Rodeo riders will forget their horse before their Skoal. Girl athletes are loading up, too. They pack it in their armpits and their vaginas. They also poke little pinholes between their toes and pack it in there. "In 30 seconds," says Neil Romano of the National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP), "the rush hits their head." And no unsightly prom dress stains!
Spit tobacco is banned on the college and minor league levels of baseball, but in the majors it's Welcome to the big leagues, Rook! Let's get you started on a nice big hole in your lip! The players' association says any attempt by owners to control tobacco use would be a collective bargaining issue. They will defend to the death their members' right to die.
Of 2,000 minor leaguers examined last year by dentists retained by NSTEP, 300 had lesions inside their mouths, including 21 that appeared cancerous or precancerous. NSTEP also says that one in 10 high school boys is using spit tobacco. I did when I was a kid, too. Nearly everybody on my high school baseball team chewed. We'd sit in the cafeteria, filling up Big Gulp cups with our great expectorations. We bet a kid named Bullet Bob 50 bucks he wouldn't drink a full cup. He did it. Made like a bullet heading for the bathroom, too.
When you find out what chew can do to your face, it'll make you want to hurl. Former major league outfielder Bill Tuttle chewed until he lost his teeth, his taste buds, his right cheekbone, his hearing and, finally, his life.
Umpire Doug Harvey worked the bigs with a cheek full of chew for 31 years. He retired with a lump in his throat—not from emotion but from the chaw. He had 60 radiation treatments, dropped from 205 pounds to 145 and fed himself cans of Ensure through a straw-sized hole in his breast bone just to stay alive. Recovered, he's now told 156,070 school kids to stay off spit tobacco.