As MLB toughens on tobacco, players adapt

March 10th, 2016
The Giants' Joe Panik has not used chewing tobacco, a habit that could be fading across Major League Baseball. (AP)Chris Carlson/AP

Baseball and chewing tobacco have always gone hand in hand. Images of players spitting out their chew in the dugout used to be as common as close plays at first. If Major League Baseball has its way, however, that image will soon go the way of collisions at home plate.
Smokeless tobacco is already banned from Major League parks in California, and New York is on its way to doing the same with its two ballparks. MLB has tried to toughen its stance on the practice league-wide in the hopes of removing it from the game entirely.
However, there are a number of younger players who are not only unfazed by the changes, they have never tried chew in their life.
Padres prospect Hunter Renfroe never needed the crutch to feel comfortable playing the game.
"I never dipped or chewed in my life," he said. "A lot of guys do it I guess because of a feel thing. They just start doing it when they are young, since baseball players have done it forever."
Dodgers prospect Chase De Jong had other influences that kept him from using smokeless tobacco while playing.
"My dad being a doctor and my oldest brother being a doctor, they kind of exposed me to the post-dipping life," he said. "Not many 11- or 12-year-olds who are getting serious about baseball get sat down in front of a throat and mouth cancer book."
While these younger players are not upset by the changing tides in baseball when it comes to tobacco, there are veterans who will not give up their chew quietly.
Some players, like the Indians' Juan Uribe, are known for frequently keeping a large amount of chew in their mouth.
"There were definitely guys in this clubhouse who were upset by it," Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray said. "I've never used it, but I know some guys are more comfortable with it."
Aside from a generational issue, Giants second baseman Joe Panik thinks it could also be a matter of how and where you were raised.
"Some parts of the country, chewing tobacco may be more prevalent than others. It really depends on where you come from," he said.
Panik, a New York native, has not used chewing tobacco.
"Even in college, not too many guys did it," he said. "Especially my friends -- my friends didn't really do that stuff."
There have been changes in the past regarding dugout and clubhouse habits in baseball, so a move to remove chewing tobacco is not unprecedented.
"It used to be the norm that guys would smoke cigarettes, and now that's almost nonexistent in baseball," said De Jong. "And then, in the '90s, it was the baseball player who had the big chew in his mouth."
Generational or not, players across the league are going to have to change their chewing habits. De Jong doesn't foresee a major upheaval.
"Baseball is a game of adaption," he said. "So people are going to have to adapt to that."