Chris Sale Says Tony Gwynn's Death Motivated Him to Quit Chewing Tobacco

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2016

FILE - In this July 8, 2016, file photo, Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale delivers a pitch during the first inning of an interleague baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, in Chicago. Sale will start for the American League in Tuesday night's, July 12, 2016, All-Star Game and Johnny Cueto of the San Francisco Giants for the National League. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
Paul Beaty/Associated Press

Tony Gwynn's death left a major impression on Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale.

Gwynn died in 2014 as a result of salivary gland cancer, a diagnosis he argued in part was due to a chewing tobacco habit.

Speaking ahead of the 2016 MLB All-Star Game, Sale explained why Gwynn's death pushed him to stop using tobacco, per the San Diego Union-Tribune's Kirk Kenney:

He actually made a very big impact on my life. I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away. I remember seeing that and just being so shocked. He was a larger than life person. He was an inspiration to the game for many, many people for a lot of different reasons. I quit that day and haven't touched it since. In a sense I owe him a huge, "Thank you," not only for myself but for my family. Hopefully, I can sway somebody in the right direction as well like he did for me.

Gwynn was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2010 and continued to use smokeless tobacco.

"In his mind, he knew he couldn't quit," said Mike Howder, a video specialist who worked with Gwynn on the Padres, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "He was so about routine, and chewing tobacco was too about this routine. We both pretty much knew that with the baseball schedule, we weren't going to quit."

In May, Gwynn's family filed a wrongful-death suit against tobacco manufacturers, per the New York Times' Tyler Kepner:

There are no damages specified in the complaint, which asks for a jury trial on grounds of negligence, fraud and product liability. Essentially, the complaint says that Gwynn, while in college, was the victim of a scheme to get him, a rising star athlete, addicted to smokeless tobacco, while knowing the dangers it posed to him. The suit says that the industry was undergoing a determined effort at the time to market its products to African-Americans, and that Gwynn was a "marketing dream come true" for the defendants.

"Now that the family understands how he was targeted, they understand that the industry knew they had this highly carcinogenic product and they were marketing it to people like Tony," said David S. Casey, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. "They want to hold them accountable and let a jury make a decision as to what is proper in this case."

Sale isn't the first MLB player to quit tobacco in the aftermath of Gwynn's death. Both Stephen Strasburg and Addison Reed, who played under Gwynn at San Diego State, gave up their habits in the summer of 2014.

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Some cities have banned the use of smokeless tobacco at MLB stadiums, a law that extends to players. The league hasn't prohibited players from using the substance. MLB has, however, mandated players can't have tobacco in their mouths while they're giving on-air interviews, nor are they allowed to have tobacco tins or cans in their back pockets during games.


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