Josh Hamilton's Tobacco Use: Why Nolan Ryan Missed the Point, Terribly

Rick Suter@@rick_suterContributor IIOctober 11, 2012

Jun 24, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan smiles during the eighth inning of the game against the Colorado Rockies at Rangers Ballpark. The Rangers beat the Rockies 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan has every right to question facets of his team's collapse this year, including Josh Hamilton's play—or lack of. However, scolding a man's decision to quit an addiction, regardless of the time frame, was absolutely wrong. 

In a radio interview on ESPN Dallas 103, Ryan had this to say about Hamilton's smokeless tobacco addiction troubles:

His timing on quitting smokeless tobacco couldn't have been worse. You would've liked to have thought that if he was going to do that that he would've done it in the offseason or waited until this offseason to do it. So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year that he was having up to that point in time when he did quit, you'd have liked that he would've taken a different approach to that.

That, as Mr. Ryan's statement emphasizes, is the biggest black-eyed cluster of words to come out of baseball since Jose hired a ghostwriter to scribble his thoughts and accounts of steroid use in the MLB.

Unfortunately, while Jose's book helped clean up a questionable game, Nolan Ryan's radio rant staples the MLB ethos into a horrid framework, not only leaving a careless stance towards human health, but also giving fans the wrong idea—especially children. 

Let's face it, smokeless tobacco is not good for you and, quite possibly, it can lead to death. There is no need to throw around statistical data and provide power point presentations expressing why that statement is true, either.

The MLB has done its best in recent years regarding tobacco use, limiting the areas when a player can or can not chew, but the battle is far from victorious. Without question, not allowing players to carry tins (the term for a can of chew) in their pockets or chew during interviews and player functions will help the cause, but only a little—possibly a fraction.


The real determining factor in all of this is the players themselves, and what a mind-numbing addiction like tobacco use can do to a person’s psyche. While some may be fine with it and continue using (which is their choice), when a player does decide to take action and begin the long road to quitting, it's baseball's duty to commend, not condemn.

Because quitting smokeless tobacco is almost impossible.

I say this not based on Josh Hamilton's front-page battle, but instead as a journalist taking a page out of Hunter S. Thompson's "Gonzo Journalism," and actually living the story—unfortunately, to this very day. 

What can start out as a young kid's love of the game and the players' nuances can quickly turn into shredded beef jerky—packaged to look like the real thing. Then he moves on to non-tobacco brands, finally ending with real smokeless tobacco before high school even begins: If that doesn't scare the moms out of their soccer vans it should, because that is how quickly it starts.  

Although it is not the sexy, commercial-making substance and doesn't hold a candle to the Hollywood addictions we covet and pursue as a society, smokeless tobacco is definitely an addiction; most notably, one that shadows the MLB and the players in the clubhouse.

Tony Gwynn has been the most recent player to show signs of tobacco health hazards, undergoing surgery to remove a tumor in cheek last year. The doctors did not directly point the finger to his cancer cause being tobacco use for 20 years, according to Tom Friend's article on, but Gwynn does.

It's true that if you scour the Internet long enough, you will find studies and claims that tobacco use does not produce oral cancer, but in that same research you may find a man by the name of Gruen Von Behrens, depicting a far more true, absolutely scary and accurate story.


According to an April 14, 2010 article by ABC reporter, Boris Korby, Von Berhens began using smokeless tobacco at 13 years old. By 17, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, ending any baseball career he hoped to have because of the habit he got from watching his favorite game and players. 

A decade-and-a-half later, plus 34 surgeries that has basically left him without a face, Von Berehns is pleading with the baseball world, taking his story all the way to Capitol Hill in order to stop tobacco use in the game he loves so much.

Will it work?

It's difficult to ever predict the outcome, but one thing is absolutely certain: What Nolan Ryan said did not help the cause. 

Tobacco is a trend in the MLB. Watch any of the playoff games this week and I bet you will see at least three to five players chewing, and doing so while the camera is right on top of them. And if you can see them, rest assured young fans see them too—that's where the problem appears.

The answer is to get rid of smokeless tobacco in the MLB, completely. 

Josh Hamilton has decided to buck the trend and quit, leaving himself an uphill battle for life. It's a decision that baseball, especially Nolan Ryan, should congratulate. It will teach the youth a valuable lesson, something the MLB has not done in a while.   

If Nolan Ryan is unhappy with Hamilton's performance on the field, fine. It's not out of reason to critique a player, perhaps questioning Hamilton's timing on outside pitches because he was consistently clearing his hips too early.


But that's the only timing of Hamilton's that Nolan Ryan should question.

When it comes to quitting his tobacco use, no time is better than the present. Regardless of the business, there are no championships, Triple Crowns or MVP votes that can amount to a person’s health, and that should be the only focus.

Nolan Ryan, being a face of baseball, should know that to be true. 

Baseball should be proud of Josh Hamilton's efforts and make use of them, accordingly. It will help the thousands battling this addiction, like myself, to move forward and beat it. 

Because once a person picks up the habit, stopping never ends. Quitting for one year only means that you have another year of struggling ahead of you, again and again.