San Francisco Giants Chewing Tobacco Ban Could End Over 100 Years Of Baseball History

Chewing Tobacco Ban
Baseball players may be throwing their last spitball as a chewing tobacco ban proposal hits California. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Bad news for baseball players in the bullpen: A San Francisco city ordinance may lead to banning chewing tobacco on the field. Major League Baseball's Giants would be the first team to ever be banned from chewing a 100-year-old tradition and addiction.

On Tuesday, the city supervisors’ votes came in unanimously to ban smokeless tobacco from all playing fields throughout the city. The law was initially pushed by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which targeted baseball because of its long legacy with chewing tobacco. If the ordinance passes one more vote and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signs, the ban will be enforced on Jan 1. 2016, just in time for spring training.

“It’s a serious health issue,” Jess Montejano, a legislative aide for the ban’s chief sponsor, told Time, adding that “kids are seeing their athletic heroes chewing tobacco on the baseball diamond.”

The MLB responded to the ban with open arms, stating that they’ve been supporters of a smokeless tobacco ban and had been seeking discussions with the Major League Baseball Players Association. It will be the end of an era for spitballs in American baseball if the law passes. But it may show promise for a healthier future, considering chewing tobacco is directly linked to mouth cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

 

A Brief History of Baseball’s Love For Chewing Tobacco

The tobacco plant finds its roots in North and South America in 6000 B.C., where it was grown for religious and medicinal practices, according to Boston University Medical Center. It was a trusted cure-all, used as a painkiller for everything from wounds to tooth aches.

But it wasn’t until 1492 when Christopher Columbus was given dried tobacco leaves as a gift from the American Indians that it’s popularity spread like wildfire across Europe. After experimenting with smoking tobacco through the nose, then mouth, chewing tobacco products finally hit America in 1875, when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company became the first major producer.

Between the late 19th and early 20th century, chewing tobacco was by far the most popular form of tobacco consumption in the United States, according to Discovery. Baseball players were wary of cigarettes because they believed it caused fatigue and even bad luck. So as the rest of the country moved onto cigarette smoking, baseball players stuck with chewing.

Beyond the addiction, there was actually a practicality to chewing tobacco. Infielders would use it to keep their mouth moist from the dusty base paths, while the spit was used to keep their gloves sticky, yet soften them over time. Fans and marketers quickly caught on and created Big Tobacco Chewing Gum, which baseball game-goers and especially kids know and love to this day.

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