The players can still chew

The latest baseball CBA that was announced today is quite interesting. For starters, against the backdrop of a possible lost NBA season, and a recent NFL lockout, MLB is proving that the painful lessons of 1994 have not been forgotten. Labor peace for the forseeable future will only be a good thing for the game.

The wild card expansion and the testing for HGH will get most of the media attention, so there’s no pooint in trying to get into that here. Here’s a link if you want to read more about these topics. But what interests me the most is the preservation–if in a weakened state–of the players’ ability to use smokeless tobacco (i.e. “chew”) in the ballpark. I wanted to look through an old stack of baseball cards for evidence of tobacco use, and it wasn’t very hard to find. Take a close look at Craig Lefferts’ backside and you’ll see what I mean. That’s not a hockey puck in his back pocket.

I’ve written about Lefferts before. He was a Cubs pitcher who was traded to the Padres in 1984, and then won two games (out of three) in the playoff series later that year. Like Terry Kennedy, he was a 1984 Padre who also played against the Cubs in the 1989 playoffs, this time as a member of the San Francisco Giants. He couldn’t repeat 1984’s playoff heroics, earning a 9.00 ERA in two short appearances in the now-best-of-seven series with the Cubs. But, apparently, he did like to keep his chew with him when he was on the mound.

I tried using chew once (we also called it “dip”), but I can’t think of anything more unpleasant than needing to spit all the time.  And it just didn’t feel right as it was pressing up against my gums, either. I won’t go to my grave without trying it, but I can’t imagine how I would ever try it again, either.

I remember 1990 well. Tobacco was definitely in: Cigarette billboards were everywhere, magazines had cigarette ads on their back covers, Joe Camel was smiling at you all the time, ashtrays were conveniently located near elevators, and smoking indoors–anywhere and everywhere–was the rule. Either you did it, if you were a smoker, or you realized there was no point in telling someone else not to do it, if you weren’t. And now, it’s as if the world has turned  itself upside-down, but in a good way, as far as this writer is concerned.

Minor Leaguers haven’t been able to use dip since 1993. That’s nearly 20 years now. Major Leaguers who use it either had to sneak around in the minors, or take up the habit after they reach the majors. Seems kind of silly to me, but old traditions die hard, particularly where baseball is concerned.

The new CBA allows players to keep using their chew, but only when no fans are around to see it. This will halt the glamorization of its use by the players, and may put it on the path to eradication after 2016. I for one hope it does, but we’ll see what happens going forward. At the very least, we won’t be seeing any more Lefferts-ian use of chew while a pitcher is on the mound. And that’s something, isn’t it?

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