There will be less to chew on

In the process of identifying another player with some chaw in his back pocket (and right underneath his batting glove), I wanted to write a few more words about baseball and tobacco.

I’m not old enough to remember Joe Garagiola as a player. Instead, I think about him as a baseball announcer, for the Game of the Week back in the 1970s, and for doing the voiceover for highlight reels of World Series gone by. But there was something else about Joe Garagiola that I didn’t know until recently. And it’s worth sharing here, as well.

When baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was agreed to, the issue of tobacco got some attention because it was banned to a degree, but is still allowed during the game. And its banishment in the first place was a direct result of the efforts of Joe Garagiola. He testified before Congress about its effects on those who use it. He would show players the example of what tobacco had done to the late Bill Tuttle. And he has helped to convince players such as Curt Schilling to give up the habit altogether.

I never thought there would be a day without cigarette billboards, and yet here we are. Pick up any magazine from the 1970s or 1980s and there will be a stunning number of cigarette ads in it, especially on the highly-visible back cover. And now, a generation later, they’re all gone. It has to be considered progress.

People still smoke, and still chew things like Copenhagen, and I wouldn’t support banning it altogether. After all, people do have the choice to poison themselves if they want to. But baseball doesn’t have to show a toxic habit like this to the rest of the world, either.

Thanks to the efforts of Joe Garagiola, evidence of tobacco use is about to become harder to see than it was in Pete O’Brien’s day. And perhaps the next CBA can finally put the issue to rest once and for all.

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