If ya got ‘em, don’t chew ‘em

Fox and ZimmerBy Ron Leir

With the baseball season upon us, the New York City Council has seized the opportunity to welcome back its home teams by banning smokeless tobacco products at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and any other ticketed [indoor or outdoor] sporting event in the City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, the final arbiter on all municipal legislation, has signed the bill, so there you have it: a new banned substance to add to MLB’s prohibited list of “drugs of abuse (eight are listed), steroids (71 are identified) and stimulants (55).”

With the permission of the players’ union, MLB periodically tests for the presence of illicit drugs and has imposed suspensions for violations. Alex Rodriguez was out for a full season [162 games], if you recall.

How New York City is going to enforce the rule on smokeless tobacco, I’m not quite sure. Will the NYPD and/or MLB subject players to breath tests or surreptitiously check players’ uniforms for traces of Red Man?

Will cameras catch managers in the dugout chewing out indiscreet chompers caught in the act of spitting out the evidence?

Even some managers could be considered suspect, not to mention team owners.

One of my earliest childhood memories watching the game on TV and collecting my favorite players’ baseball cards was the image of Chicago White Sox Hall of Fame shortstop Nellie Fox with a big wad of chaw in the corner of his mouth.

When my uncle took me to the old Yankee Stadium for the first time in the early ‘60s, we sat in the right field grandstand, and I can still remember the sight and smell of cigarette smoke wafting over us as the game progressed.

By the way, in the early years of baseball, it was the U.S. tobacco industry that subsidized those cards. (One of the original Hall of Famers – another shortstop – Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner objected because he didn’t want to be associated with tobacco. Maybe that’s why his baseball card is worth a fortune on the open market.)

And then there are all those fans to be checked. They should be on the alert for NYPD secret agents disguised as ticket sellers, ushers or food and drink vendors equipped with sensitive remote tobacco trackers.

Look, it’s a laudable goal to try and prevent people from exposing themselves to the possibility of contracting oral cancer by dipping. Big League All-Star players like Tony Gwynn, who died at age 54, and Curt Schilling blamed their illnesses on longtime dipping habits.

Deeply ingrained rituals are often hard to break. I remember a former work colleague – a proud Marine combat veteran – who refused to stop even after contracting emphysema.

It’s one thing to aspire to wellness; it’s another, altogether different thing, however, to try and legislate good behavior without at least providing a reliable support system for those unwilling – or simply unable – to comply.

If our government really wants to be serious about promoting wellness, instead of going for one big whiff and leaving men – or women – on base to fend for themselves, it needs to start early, with Little League.

These kids – whose heroes are the Big Leaguers and whose habits they tend to imitate – need to hear from them that he who chews, will lose.

Then the kids themselves can spread the message to their peers.

It’s sure worth a try and I’m not just blowin’ smoke here, you know.

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