Call this strike one against smokeless tobacco.
The summer game's chew of choice was banned in the lowest minor leagues yesterday by Commissioner Fay Vincent. Baseball's first-ever tobacco ban covers all parks in four rookie and short-season Class A leagues of the National Association.
"This action is part of baseball's overall strategy to educate our players to the health risks associated with the use of smokeless tobacco and to disassociate the game from its use," Mr. Vincent said in a news release issued from the baseball owners meetings in Irving, Texas.
The ban will be enforced in the Appalachian, Pioneer and Gulf Coast (rookie), and Northwest (Class A) leagues. The commissioner's office will depend on umpires to enforce the ban on a daily basis.
"We'll just tell the kids, 'That's the rule and you have to live by it,' " said Ed Napoleon, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles' Gulf Coast League farm team in Sarasota, Fla. "There are certain rules and regulations when you drive a car too. If you chew, you'll have to pay the fine. It will be hard for some who have the habit. If they have to go cold turkey, they'll have a comedown. But the kids at that level don't want any problems. They'll do it."
The other Orioles farm team affected by the ban is Bluefield, W.Va., of the Appalachian League.
The image of a baseball player, outfitted with a tobacco tin in his hip pocket and a wad of smokeless tobacco pinched between his cheek and gum, may soon disappear. Chewing has been a widespread topic of conversation at spring training.
"There has been a rumor going around that they're trying to ban tobacco at the major-league level," Orioles pitcher Anthony Telford said. "If they banned it, I would quit chewing. It wouldn't be a big deal for me. Chewing is bad for us. Everyone knows that."
According to the American Cancer Society, smokeless tobacco exposes the body to levels of nicotine similar to those of cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk factor for cancer of the mouth, larynx, throat and esophagus. In 1989, oral cancer claimed 8,650 lives.
"We have been encouraging our players to stop chewing tobacco and tobacco products," said Charles Steinberg, the Orioles' team dentist. "We've been gratified by the progress we've made lately. We've had some of our players quit."
Players chew tobacco for a variety of reasons, Dr. Steinberg said.
"Some like the feel of it," he said. "And some have perhaps been using it for the nicotine's effect. And some don't even know why they do it."
Pitcher Jeff Ballard, the Orioles' player representative and a sometime tobacco chewer, said an outright tobacco ban would be difficult to enforce in the major leagues.
"I really don't think it's all that bad to ban tobacco," he said. "I see it both ways. Obviously, it's not good for you to chew. To be a habit-user of it, you'll run into problems. Once you start getting older, people are old enough to make their own chances. The older the players are, you'll have a fight there just in principle. We're all men up here, we should have the option to do whatever is within the bounds of the law."