It’s been less than a year since the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer, and Gwynn’s passing has brought many calls for Major League Baseball to ban the use of smokeless tobacco. As baseball and its players association move toward another round of negotiations on a new labor agreement next year, expect smokeless tobacco to be one of the most debated issues.
Smokeless tobacco - known as “chew” - is banned in the minor leagues, and MLB enacted a series of new rules to curtail its use in 2012, including teams no longer being able to provide it to their players, players no longer being able to carry tins of in their uniforms and a ban on players chewing tobacco during on-camera interviews.
But anyone who has watched a game on television knows chew is still widely used in baseball.
Gwynn, who was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland in 2010, believed his use of smokeless tobacco was a root cause of his disease. He began using chew in 1981 while playing Rookie-level ball in Walla Walla, Wash. However, doctors have stated that there are no studies that definitively link chewing tobacco with cancer of the parotid - or salivary - gland.
Tony Gwynn Jr., who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals on March 2 and now plays for their Triple-A Syracuse affiliate, believes that his father’s longtime use of chew was a directly contributing factor to his namesake’s death at 54. On Tuesday, the younger Gwynn will be prominently featured on a segment on HBO’s “Real Sports” in which he says his father would “100 percent” support a ban on the substance.
Reporter Jon Frankel speaks with both Tony Gwynn Jr. and new commissioner Rob Manfred in the segment, which will air at 10 p.m. The piece was shot last year, while Gwynn was playing for the Phillies.
The debate over smokeless tobacco is a touchy one, pitting legitimate long-term health concerns over personal choice. Here’s a clip from HBO promoting the segment that will be aired Tuesday night: