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A call to action: tobacco and MLB

6/17/2014 - MLB San Diego Padres
Play6:48
Keith Olbermann Remembers Tony Gwynn

Mourning the loss of one of the greatest players and one of the greatest gentlemen of a generation, Tony Gwynn.

Tony Gwynn was a kind, caring and welcoming man, constantly brimming with good humor and wonderful insight. He was a great ambassador for the game. Whether Gwynn was on or off the field, former teammate and current Padres batting coach Phil Plantier said, "He did everything the way you hoped everybody would."

That is true. Except, of course, for one thing. Like far too many other baseball players, Gwynn chewed tobacco. And that addiction is why we are mourning him now.

It is not 100 percent certain that chewing tobacco caused Gwynn's cancer, but Gwynn certainly believed it did, telling people that his cancer was located in the exact spot he always placed the chew. Gwynn is not the first player to suffer from such cancer and his death should provide the final reason for baseball to ban the substance from the game once and for all.

"Let's do something," Joe Garagiola Sr. said. "I don't know if this is going to do something, but I would hope so. Tony Gwynn dying is sad enough. I would hope the players and baseball would get together. You'll have to get both groups to sit down and work it out. We can't wish it. Tony Gwynn's death is sad enough. I hope it triggers [a ban]."

Garagiola has been a passionate voice for banning spit tobacco from baseball for many years, frequently visiting clubhouses to try to convince players to stop endangering their health. He says Gwynn's widow, Alicia, asked him to try to get Tony to stop chewing.

"What you have to do is convince the guys that it's not for them; it's mostly about their family," Garagiola said. "You have guys with five children. They'll say, 'I'll stop when I quit playing.' How do you know you'll still be around then?"

Like smoking, chewing tobacco is a revolting, addictive and harmful habit. We are repeatedly warned against both; and yet, people still use both. I do not understand why somebody starts smoking -- the warnings are so explicit and the cost of cigarettes is so high - but maybe it's because his or her friends are doing it. That's definitely the case with ballplayers and chewing. Players have been chewing in baseball since before there was organ music.

The only way to stop them from doing so is to ban it from the game.

Baseball already has banned chewing tobacco at the minor league level. There are restrictions on it at the major league level as well, but the players union has stubbornly resisted banning its use on the field. And as long as they can use it on the field, they will never stop chewing and spitting and risking their heath.

And let's not refer to it as "smokeless tobacco." That's simply a tobacco industry term to make it sound better, like Vegas referring to "gambling" as "gaming." As Garagiola would say, smokeless does not mean harmless.

Yes, ballplayers are adults with the same rights as everyone else, but they also are role models who already accept various limitations in exchange for the considerable financial rewards they receive. The use of tobacco in all forms on the field or anywhere in the stadium should be one of these limitations. Tobacco might be a legal substance for adults, but that shouldn't stop baseball from banning it. Marijuana, for example, has been legalized in Washington and Colorado, but MLB does not allow players to use it when in Seattle or Denver -- or anywhere else for that matter.

If amphetamines are banned, then why does MLB allow a substance with known carcinogens that provides players with a "buzz?" If we are so caught up with eliminating performance enhancing drugs from the game, we should be equally passionate about banning health-diminishing products as well.

Gwynn was a wonderful man. The best way to honor him is to eliminate the very thing that killed him. Let's get rid of chewing tobacco so that no other player suffers and dies as Tony did.