As long as smokeless tobacco remains ingrained in baseball culture, there’s always the likelihood that much younger players will mimic their heroes from the diamond — and pick up a habit that increases the risk of cancer. The Globe recently reported that of the 58 Red Sox players who were invited to spring training, 21 of them, including stars David Ortiz, Jonny Gomes, Clay Buchholz, and Mike Napoli, acknowledged using either chewing tobacco or snuff. These were hardly ringing endorsements: Ortiz, who said he uses a pinch of tobacco as a stimulant when he hits, also notes that he doesn’t use it in the offseason. Gomes said, “Once I stop playing, I’ll never do it again. I know it’s a bad idea.” Manager John Farrell said, “It’s a nasty habit, but it’s one of those traditions in baseball.”
While Major League Baseball has taken some steps to limit the visibility of tobacco in the sport — for instance, by prohibiting tobacco tins in uniform pockets — players opposed an effort in 2011 to ban it altogether. Unfortunately, only an outright ban will dislodge the idea that tobacco, in some intangible way, is an acceptable part of the sport. The league and the players’ association should embrace such a policy, not only for the health of today’s athletes but also to model cancer prevention to their youthful fans.