Go ahead and leave your heart in San Francisco if you please, but don’t leave your chaw. This might cause you to be nicked by the tobacco police.
It’s another of those things that only make sense in San Francisco, so libertine in many ways, but puritan in others. An exotic mix of extreme permissiveness and micro-management. Last week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance banning the use of smokeless tobacco products in all sports venues in the city, including AT&T Park, where the World Champion San Francisco Giants play. On Friday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed the ordinance into law. Violators could be removed from ball yards.
So there you have it, baseball without chewing tobacco, or that finer pinch-between-your-cheek-and-gum stuff. Giants’ players and those in town to play the Giants will have to make do with gum, sunflower seeds, or some other nicotine-free substitute. It will be more sanitary, but it will take some getting used to, for both players and fans. Smokeless tobacco has been a part of baseball, though a not very attractive part, since, well, since there has been baseball.
According to Mark Farrell, the San Francisco Supervisor who introduced the ordinance, it is intended to “send a simple and strong message that tobacco use in sports will no longer harm our youth, and our health.”
No surprise here. “It’s for the children” and “it’s bad for your health” are the usual reasons government trots out when telling consenting adults they can no longer do something they wish to do that is harmful, as the use of smokeless tobacco clearly is.
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy, a former big league catcher and a recovering user of the weed himself, is on board with the ban. He said on the Giant’s website that he thought the ban “a step in the right direction.” Officials at Major League Baseball, who like the idea of a tobacco-free game but have not been able to get this through the players’ pit-bull union, also like the ban but are understandably reluctant to say so. (Players’ wives and girlfriends are probably being more vocal in their support.)
“I think it can be a good thing,” Bochy added. “It’s going to be hard to enforce. It’s a tough habit to break.”
Right on both counts. (Is there a secret training camp for snuff-sniffing dogs operating somewhere in the Sierras?) If giving up smokeless is as difficult as giving up cigarettes, then AT&T-bound players need to get to work on this before the ban goes into effect in 2016. A guy doesn’t want to be having withdrawal symptoms with the game on the line and the ball arching toward him.
Professional baseball dugouts have been smoking-free zones for a long time. And the smokeless stuff has been outlawed in the minors for more than 20 years. Players in the bus leagues don’t have a union. In the bigs, players aren’t supposed to carry tobacco products in their uniforms on the field, and they can’t be interviewed by the Baseball Babe after the game with a jaw-full. But they can chew and spit in the dugout or on the field. This may be turning around, in a way the players’ union can do little or nothing about.
If San Francisco is doing something trendy and with-it, can the rest of California be far behind? Perhaps not very far behind in this white-hot issue. A bill is working its way through the California Assembly that would impose the same restrictions in ball yards statewide. This would include five Major League parks, as well as countless minor league, college, and high school venues.
San Francisco, and other jurisdictions, have gotten pressure to enact this kind of restriction from a Washington-based outfit called Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign, pronounced himself delighted with the new ordinance. “Today, San Francisco entered the history books as the first city to take tobacco out of baseball,” he said. “The home of the world champion Giants has set an example that all of Major League Baseball and the rest of the country should quickly follow.”
I don’t know about quickly, but no one should be surprised to see efforts like this succeed in other Major League cities and states. The days of great expectorations in baseball may be numbered. Leading some to wonder what’s next? Nose picking? Or perhaps on-field adjustment of a certain protective foundation garment. No plans yet to attack beer or profanity.