CHICAGO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — CHICAGO -- There is a tendency among ballplayers, Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun said, to believe that the use of chewing tobacco and dip won't ever hurt them.
Even after Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Brett Butler was found to have cancer of the tonsils Tuesday, Zaun said, "Everybody thinks, 'that'll never happen to me.' I'll be the first to admit that."
Zaun, however, is worried. "Scared," he said.
He's trying to break a habit that started 10 years ago, something he compares to a drug addiction -- except that he can satisfy his craving by driving down to the local gas station. "I wish I had never started," said Zaun. "It controls me, I don't control it. I got up to an alarming amount of use of dip, and I'm trying to stop."
Butler's tumor might have been caused by secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke, the surgeon who removed a cancerous tonsil from Butler's throat said yesterday. Dr. Robert Gadlage downplayed the significance of Butler's use of chewing tobacco in his early days as a player. He said both of Butler's parents smoked, so Butler was exposed to secondhand smoke consistently as a child.
It is believed there still is some cancer in Butler's neck, Gadlage said. An abnormal lymph node will be removed May 21 and two weeks later, Butler will start six weeks of radiation treatments.
Butler refused to rule out returning to the Dodgers this season. "Is there a chance that I could play this year? Talking to all the doctors and everything, I don't know if there is a chance that I can come back," Butler told Los Angeles TV station KNBC from his Atlanta hospital room yesterday. "If it is, it would probably be late in the season. Then again, we're not going to close any door right now."
Butler said he doesn't believe chewing tobacco caused the cancer. "The last time I dipped was 15 years ago, so to say that was the reason why I got this I think is reaching for something that isn't there," Butler said.
Zaun's hero as a kid was his Uncle Pat, who chewed tobacco. Naturally, when his Uncle Pat offered Zaun some chewing tobacco when he was 6 years old, Zaun tried. "And I threw up all over the place," he said. "My mother wanted to kill him."
Zaun intermittently tried chewing tobacco and dip until he was 15, when he became a regular user of dip, and once he signed professionally and was around others who used smokeless tobacco, his habit worsened.
"[Anyone using] a can [of dip] a day is considered among the guys to be a big user," Zaun said. "I was up to two cans a day. That's $7.50 a day. That's unbelievable.
"You can get 10 dips out of every can. That means I had up to 20 for every 24 hours. That's incredible. . . . I'd be lying in bed at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, and I'd realize I didn't have any left. 'Oh, no.' I'd actually get up, get dressed and go out to a [gas station] and get some. That's ridiculous.
"It's a disgusting habit, too. There was a time when I couldn't go out and have a meal without having a can to spit into."
Eventually, Zaun said, "I'll quit it."
He's been trying. During the off-season, he tried to stop completely. "I went cold turkey," he said. "That was a mistake."
Zaun said that in trying to break his addiction as he did, he felt he became a completely different person, irritable, his sleep patterns destroyed. He lost 10 pounds. "It's really a tough thing to stop," Zaun said.
About two weeks after he reported to spring training, he was using dip and chewing tobacco again. Since then, he's reduced his use of smokeless tobacco gradually. He's eliminated the dip, and indulges in chewing tobacco a couple of times a day.
"Eventually, I'll quit it. It's an addiction. That's the bottom line. It's not cool and it doesn't look good. My last baseball card in the minors has me with dip in my mouth."
Zaun shook his head. "For me," he said, "It's time to stop."
Pub Date: 5/09/96