Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tobacco and Baseball

Dip in a lip.

That’s the image that greeted me when I recently turned into a postseason thriller.

And spit.

A single close-up from the camera revealed the unmistakable tobacco bulge. A multitude of others also witnessed the brown stain on the lip. I think its time to curb these images, as MLB needs to ban the on-field usage of tobacco.

According to one study, around a third of MLB players use smokeless tobacco, and a fourth of minor leaguers use the substance. In my estimation, the true numbers are probably higher. Tobacco is legal and athletes are grown men, but a ban has nothing to do with them, even though tobacco cessation would obviously be beneficial to individuals. Instead a ban focuses on young eyes.

Research shows that teens increased their smokeless tobacco usage in recent years. Like it or not, athletes are role models (sorry, Charles Barkley), as kids emulate them. Athletes today enjoy greater exposure than ever. Consequently, their tobacco usage gains more exposure. The World Series averaged 19.4 million viewers in 2009. Though World Series ratings were lower this year, overall playoff ratings were strong. And the Internet offers seemingly endless possibilities for exposure.

Some experts think this exposure has contributed to the increase in smokeless tobacco usage by teens. Despite smoking percentages decreasing, it seems “dip in a lip” is making a strong comeback.

This is worrisome. Though less likely to cause death than cigarettes, smokeless tobacco contains 28 different carcinogens linked to numerous varieties of cancer. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a guy without a jawbone, you’ve seen its nasty capabilities.

I must admit that I am not without fault. Though never a frequent user, I tried the distasteful substance during my playing days. As a minor leaguer, my behavior broke the rules, as minor league baseball banned the usage of tobacco products in 1993.

Currently, the minor leagues impose a $500 fine for a player caught with tobacco and a $500 fine for the team’s manager. These fines, in comparison to minor league salaries, are exorbitant. One would think that they would sufficiently deter players from using. Yet they don’t.

Research shows that the likelihood of being caught is more important than the severity of punishment in deterring undesirable actions. Since very few players are ever actually caught using tobacco despite overt usage, the severe fines for minor leaguers have little deterrent effect. A system of lower fines with actual enforcement would more effectively reduce on-field tobacco usage.

Major League Baseball, as opposed to the minors, doesn’t even have a ban on tobacco usage. Players can pack an entire can of dip in their mouth and walk up to the plate with spit spilling down their chin if they so desire. No one will stop them, and millions of kids—future possible tobacco users—will witness it.

This use should be prohibited during games. MLB and the player’s union should work together on this issue and take a sensible approach: ban on-field usage of tobacco, implement a system of reasonable punishments, and actually enforce the ban with regularity.

Players will no doubt balk at such a move as an infringement upon their liberties, but if such a ban spares lives and jaws, then the policy would be worthwhile.

A couple of links for further reading:



Friday, November 5, 2010

New "Suitcase Chronicles" entry: When Old Friends Get a Ring

Yes, this is a rarity these days, but I took a few minutes away from summary judgment lectures to put some thoughts on paper (so to speak). It's about my former Giants' teammates winning it all.

So, without further introduction, here's an excerpt from my latest "Suitcase Chronicles" entry:

Some people told me recently I contributed to this championship moment simply by playing in the minors with these guys. Perhaps, in some distant, metaphysical way. But I downplay this. Nothing I did ever prepared Posey for catching Lincecum. Nothing I ever did helped Romo throw his signature slider. They learned these things on their own. I taught them nothing.

Yet we were friends, and we trekked a common journey together. Though my journey ended sooner than theirs, I still enjoyed the moments with them.

We seldom talk anymore. Life's present and future plans all too often stifle old friendships. Memories, however, continue to smolder. It is through these memories that I build my own World Series ring, and I'll carry this invisible ring with me until the day I die.