Congress urges baseball to ban smokeless tobacco

After hounding Major League Baseball and its players union over

steroids, Congress now wants the sport to ban smokeless

tobacco.

“Good luck,” San Francisco Giants reliever Brandon Medders

said. “Guys do what they do. We work outside. It’s been part of

the game for 100 years.”

At a hearing Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee

chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and Health

Subcommittee chairman Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, called

on baseball and its players to agree to bar major leaguers from

using chew, dip or similar products during games.

MLB executive VP Robert Manfred and MLB Players Association

chief labor counsel David Prouty told lawmakers they agree that

smokeless tobacco is harmful – Manfred said a ban in the majors is

“a laudable goal” – but both pointed out that any ban would have

to be agreed to through collective bargaining.

They said their sides are willing to discuss the topic during

future negotiations; baseball’s labor contract is due to expire in

December 2011.

“I can tell you, anecdotally, there are plenty of players who

are against it, who think, ‘Of course it should be banned.’ There

are plenty of players who use it. Do they think it should be

banned? I don’t know,” the union’s Prouty said in an interview

after the 3 1/2-hour hearing.

“We can go back to the players and say, ‘Congress feels

strongly about this. You ought to think about it. Look what’s

happened on other issues Congress felt strongly about,”’ Prouty

said.

Smoking cigarettes while in uniform and in view of the public is

not allowed in the majors. Smokeless tobacco has been banned in the

minors since 1993 but is allowed in the majors, and players and

managers often can be seen using products during games or carrying

a tin of dip in a back pocket.

“For them to pull it off in the minors really surprised me,”

Twins reliever Pat Neshek said after Minnesota played the Boston

Red Sox on Wednesday. “We’ll see if that gains much

traction.”

Neshek, who said he’s never tried smokeless tobacco but

considers the notion of a ban “ridiculous,” remembers players in

the minors skirting the rules.

“People would still do it,” he said. “I don’t know if they’d

mix it in with their gum or something like that.”

At the hearing earlier Wednesday, Anna Eshoo, a California

Democrat, wondered aloud: “Why don’t they just chew gum if they

feel the need to chew something?”

During his opening statement, Waxman said: “We don’t let

baseball players go stand out there in the field and drink beer.

Major League Baseball won’t allow them to step on the field and

smoke cigarettes. So why should they be out there on the field – in

sight of all their fans on television and at the ballpark – using

smokeless tobacco?”

Waxman was one of the leaders of the House Government Reform

Committee when it held a series of hearings on

performance-enhancing drugs in baseball with witnesses such as Mark

McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens in the

same Rayburn House Office building used for Wednesday’s

session.

There were no current baseball players in attendance Wednesday,

but former major leaguer and longtime anti-tobacco advocate Joe

Garagiola testified, speaking for about 15 minutes, instead of the

allotted five.

“I would like the players … who are role models; I don’t care

what anybody says … to quit carrying a can of dip in their

uniform pockets,” Garagiola said.

“Why can’t baseball and the players association right here get

together and ban it? Take it off the field,” Garagiola said.

“Tobacco is tobacco is tobacco. … Get it out of our game.”

Terry Pechacek of the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention, and Deborah Winn of the National Cancer Institute

testified about the links between smokeless tobacco and cancer, and

the addictiveness of smokeless tobacco. Pechacek said smokeless

tobacco can cause oral cancer, pancreatic cancer and has been

linked to fatal heart attacks.

Harvard professor Gregory Connolly said research shows about

one-third of major leaguers report they use smokeless tobacco, and

he says that contributes to use by youth in America.

Asked about the topic after playing against the New York Yankees

on Wednesday, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter wasn’t

sure whether it’s fair to blame ballplayers for kids using

smokeless tobacco.

“Anything healthy is always good, but I wouldn’t put it on us.

You know, there’s grandparents that do that, that dip and all that

stuff,” Hunter said. “It’s probably right there in your

home.”

Hunter said he doesn’t use dip and has tried to persuade other

players to stop.

“I can see they don’t want kids to do it, which is good,”

Medders said before San Francisco hosted Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

He also called the idea that smokeless tobacco, which he uses,

could be banned, “just stupid.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy is trying to quit his longtime

smokeless tobacco habit, and he stops during each offseason. He’s

down to about two dips a day; he says the tobacco makes him sharper

in his decision-making during games.

“I’ve dramatically cut back. I feel a lot better,” Bochy said.

“It’s not as prevalent in the game as it used to be, which is a

good thing. We know it’s not good for you, and I’m guilty. We are

role models. Believe me, I made sure my two boys don’t do it. I

don’t know if it should take an act of Congress to do it. Starting

in the minor leagues, we’ve done a pretty good job.”

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco, and AP

Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Mike Fitzpatrick in

New York contributed to this report.