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July 8, 2014

LINDLEY: Honor Gwynn by remembering where he went wrong

He blamed tobacco for his health problems

Tony Gwynn’s life is worth celebrating. He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame player with the San Diego Padres who owned a .338 lifetime batting average. He was an All-Star who didn’t require celebrity treatment.

Then there was the tragic side of Gwynn, who recently lost a four-year struggle with salivary gland cancer. Sadly, he attributed his fate to the many years he used chewing tobacco, a practice common among baseball players. It was a cruel end to a life that spanned 54 years.

Baseball has long glamorized the use of tobacco — whether a plug of the chewing variety, which players display as bulging lumps in their cheeks, or the finely-grained snuff that players wedge beside their jaws. Either results in near-constant spitting. It also provides the game its macho look.

Worse, the practice, beyond being filthy and uncouth, has served as a powerful marketing device for younger players to emulate. That’s brought boys, especially the many who play on amateur teams, into close contact with hazardous products. Snuff and chewing tobacco sold in the United States contain carcinogens.

It’s fine when youth-league players study hitting styles preferred by the pros. Emulating their lifestyle choices involving tobacco is problematic.

A few years ago a group of U.S. senators sought the players union’s support in asking Major League Baseball to ban tobacco use. The senators wrote:

“When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example. An agreement would help the health of players and be a great gift to our young fans.”

Some advancements were worked out between MLB and its players, but mostly those were cosmetic. Teams were prohibited from providing tobacco products to players, and players were not allowed to carry tobacco tins in their uniform pockets or appear in televised interviews while smoking, dipping or chewing.

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