Major League Baseball in Chicago is singing a new tune — “Take Me OUT of the Ball Game” – when it comes to smokeless tobacco.
Chaw and dip have been a staple in dugouts just as much as peanuts and Crackerjacks in the stands.
But when the Cubs return to play at Wrigley Field on Friday — and White Sox return to U.S Cellular Field on July 21 — the use of smokeless tobacco products will be illegal at both ballparks, along with all “professional and amateur” sporting events in Chicago.
The city council approved the tobacco ban in March and it officially went into effect Tuesday, during the All-Star break.
The new ordinance has brought mixed reactions from both clubhouses.
Sox catcher Alex Avila, a smokeless user, insists players will break the ban.
“They just want to make sure it’s not visible,” Avila said. “For some guys, it might push them to quit. For others, it won’t.”
Cubs catcher and tobacco user Miguel Montero took a lighter view.
“Rules are rules and rules are meant to be broken,” Montero said with a laugh. “But seriously, we’ve got to follow the rules. It’s going to be tough to quit.”
The law is a result of lobbying by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and the Washington, D.C.-based “Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,” which has targeted MLB because of the game’s historic relationship with chewing tobacco.
“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Chicago becomes the fifth Major League city to implement the tobacco ban, joining Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
“We can’t change their minds,” Sox infielder Tyler Saladino said. “I’ve worked my whole life to reach the highest professional level of baseball and I’m not going to stop something I’ve been doing this whole time.”
Whether that now means getting their fix of chaw at home, the hotel or within the privacy of the clubhouse, the Cubs, Sox and all visiting teams must adjust to the ban or face fines.
A first offense will result in a fine of $250, a second violation $500 and each additional violation $2,500. Players seen using smokeless tobacco on Chicago ballpark grounds are also subject to discipline from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
“Guys know what the consequences are and they should know to use it outside the field now,” said Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, a non-user. “I don’t think the ban will have a huge affect on our guys.”
Chewing tobacco has a multitude of negative health effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ranging from nicotine addiction to cancer of the esophagus, mouth and pancreas. Still, the product remains a legal substance and players know its effects.
“We’re grown men,” Cubs pitcher John Lackey, a non-user, said during spring training, when the law passed. “People in the stands can have a beer, but we can’t do what we want? That’s a little messed up.”
MLB banned smokeless tobacco in 1993 at the minor-league level, but it remains in use in the majors.
In 2011, the MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement prohibited players from carrying tobacco tins and pouches in the pockets of their uniforms.
New signs detailing the ban have been posted in dugouts, bullpens and clubhouses at Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
Cubs ace Jake Arrieta supports the ban and has cut back significantly on using chewing tobacco, but the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner still sneaks in an occasional pinch.
“I really hate that I do dip,” Arrieta said. “I think it’s a good thing they’re trying to take it out of the game.”