Chewing tobacco has historically been as much a part of baseball as hot dogs and the seventh inning stretch. A nasty, very addictive habit, but often recognized as more of a novelty, chewing tobacco, until more recently, was an extremely common and accepted part of the grand old game.
Only in the 1980s, with high-profile deaths such as that of Sean Marsee, not a baseball player but a high school track star, did the direct correlation between chewing tobacco and mouth cancer become more recognized and accepted, with the CEOs of the biggest tobacco companies testifying tobacco wasn't even addictive as recently as 1994.
Despite such claims, it's now accepted that nicotine is highly addictive and has its hooks in many, including Major League Baseball star Tony Gwynn, who died as a result of cancer that was first discovered in his salivary gland.
When news of Tony Gwynn's death was announced, the fact that he was only 54 years old and one of the best baseball players to ever step up to home plate, triggered a common reaction: What happened?
Well, that's where the alleged role of chewing tobacco enters Tony Gwynn's sad end. Forbes reports that while Gwynn had been battling cancer, he had also just signed a one-year extension as San Diego State's baseball coach.
But the cancer had been an ongoing battle for Tony Gwynn since it was first diagnosed in 2009. The diagnosis lead to a series of surgeries for Gwynn, focused on his right cheek to remove a stubborn malignant tumor. For one of those surgeries, Tony Gwynn was on the operating table for 14 hours.
The highly probable cause for the cancer was Tony Gwynn's addiction to smokeless chewing tobacco. Popular brands include Skoal, Copenhagen, and Kodiak, and along with mouth problems, common signs of a chewer -- or "dipper" -- is the shape of a little circle can tucked into the back pocket of one's jeans or baseball pants. For Tony Gwynn, he definitely attributed his cancer to "dipping," according to Forbes.
"Of course it caused it... I always dipped on my right side."
As reported by The Inquisitr, in their announcement of Tony Gwynn's passing, MLB.com also reflected on Gwynn's cancer being connected to his tobacco use:
"Gwynn's battle with cancer began in 2009 when a malignant tumor was removed from his right cheek. Gwynn claimed that the cancer in the salivary gland was the result of his longtime habit of chewing tobacco. The cancer returned twice, and in the latter part of 2012 he again began radiation treatment in an attempt to shrink the tumor."
Now that the cancer has resulted in Tony Gwynn's death, the question of whether MLB will ban chewing tobacco will again become an issue, according to Forbes.
The MLB last addressed chewing tobacco in 2011 labor negotiations with the players association who ultimately struck down a complete ban. At the same time, while it was too little too late for the likes of Tony Gwynn and others who will start to chew, new rules regarding tobacco include players not being allowed to have tobacco packs or tins in their back pockets while fans are in the ballpark, and they can't use tobacco during pre- or post-game interviews or at team functions.
Executive Director of the MLB Players Association, Tony Clark said in his statement regarding Tony Gwynn's passing:
"I am deeply saddened to learn that Tony Gwynn has lost his courageous battle against cancer. Since his diagnosis, Tony displayed the same tenacity and drive in his fight against this horrible disease that he brought to the plate in every at bat of his Hall of Fame career."
On the heels of Tony Gwynn's death is also the next MLB labor agreement which will be on the table in 2016. Will Tony Gwynn's passing prompt the MLB to ban chewing tobacco outright?
CNN reports that Tony Gwynn's 2010 cancer diagnosis was followed by chemotherapy and radiation to fight the "slow-moving but aggressive" cancer, also noting that Tony Gwynn isn't the first former MLB player to be stricken with oral cancer.
Along with Gwynn, Babe Ruth, Brett Butler, and Bill Tuttle all suffered similar diagnoses following years of chewing tobacco use. Butler became a strong voice against using chewing tobacco following his cancer treatment, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Tony Gwynn's untimely passing should also play a positive role in dissuading young people, whether they play baseball or are a track star, from ever starting.
Images via Wikipedia, Google and the Inquisitr