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VOL. 126 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vic Fleming

Baseball Players: Chew on This

By Vic Fleming

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“Senators urge baseball players to chew on smokeless tobacco ban,” the headline read “Chew.” Get it? I mean don’t get it. Don’t use tobacco, please. Smokeless or the other kind. From a health perspective, it’s not worth it.

Before the World Series, a group of senators wrote a letter to Michael Weiner, head of the MLB Players Association, urging participants in the national pastime to be better role models: “When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and health committee chair Tom Harkin of Iowa. It noted that millions “will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products.”

I remember a day from my sophomore year in high school. The baseball and golf teams were sharing a bus for a road trip to a nearby city. I was sitting by Scooter Spears, with whom I had played junior high football and basketball.

No golfer he, Scooter pitched for the baseball team. At the age of 15, he was emulating the pros by chewing tobacco. He offered me a pinch. Unwisely, I accepted.

At a reunion two years ago, Scooter and I reminisced about this day. He laughed. Loudly. As he had laughed four decades earlier. “Victor, you put that chaw in your mouth. And then you turned white and then yellow and then green!”

“Sick as a dog” is the phrase that came to my mind. Fortunately, the bus driver had not yet cranked up the engine. I spat that wad out a window, scrambled off the bus and ran inside the school building to find a water fountain.

So, the baseball players caved immediately, right? As if!

Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison said, “I think it’s kind of like your own freedom. If that’s what you want to do, then you do it.” Sheesh! Everyone wants to be a constitutional lawyer.

MLB’s collective bargaining agreement expires in December. More and more people are backing a tobacco ban in the next contract. Add me to the list. If the issue somehow arises in Little Rock Traffic Court, I will recuse.

Health officials from the Series’ cities called on players to abstain. “The use of tobacco by big league ballplayers at a single World Series game provides millions of dollars worth of free television advertising for an addictive and deadly product,” wrote Dr. Cynthia Simmons, the public health authority for Arlington, Texas, and Pamela Walker, the St. Louis interim health director.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smokeless tobacco can cause cancer, oral health problems and nicotine addiction. Neither chewing nor dipping is a safe alternative to smoking.

This column was written during the series, between games five and six. And, now that I think of it, I have not seen any obvious tobacco plugs in players’ mouths.

Plus, Rangers manager Ron Washington has replaced his omnipresent mouthful of sunflower seeds with a wad of pink gum. This was done, however, at the request of his wife, Gerry. “I’m off the seeds for now,” Washington was quoted as saying.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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