Is Chewing Tobacco a Problem in Major League Baseball?

Dave MeiselContributor IOctober 20, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 19:  Raul Ibanez #29 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after lined out for the final out in the bottom of the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Four of the NLCS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Citizens Bank Park on October 19, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

We all know the stories.

Back in the day, the chaw was the rage.

We've all seen that scene in "The Sandlot" when all the kids try chewing tobacco because all their favorite baseball players do it.

This has become a common motif in anti-tobacco campaigns: trying to stop visible figures from doing it because young, impressionable fans who idolize players might just try it and get addicted.

It seems the issue of chewing tobacco has fallen out of the spotlight lately. Its use in Major League Baseball has declined due to policies bans in the minor leagues, but there are still many players who do it.

I was somewhat naive about the whole issue until about my sophomore year in high school, when I found out that my team's pitching coach dipped. (Dip is fine-cut tobacco that is placed between the lip and the gums, while chew is shredded tobacco leaves or plugs placed in the cheek.) After that point, I began picking up on it when watching baseball on TV.

There are a lot of players who do it—many you might not think of.

I won't name names, because I don't think it's particularly appropriate, nor do I want to start a witch hunt for who does and who doesn't. But, for example, I can tell you that at least a quarter of the Boston Red Sox do it.

Right now, there's one team that has taken measures against chew. The Minnesota Twins have outlawed it because their (former) home field (the Metrodome) doesn't get cleaned or drained by weather. It seems to be a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, the question is, is it such a bad thing?

Chewing tobacco is essentially equivalent to smoking, with different consequences. The problems tend to surface in the oral region rather than in the lungs, which can get really ugly on the outside. It's clearly a more visible habit than smoking if players are doing it on the field and people are noticing.

What has to be weighed is whether banning chewing tobacco in MLB would cause a significant decline in its popularity in youths.

Perhaps one team could try banning it, and the effect on chewing tobacco popularity in that team's general area could be studied.

The one caveat, as always, is the potentially monstrous backlash from the players that could result in tobacco bans.