Get ready to see a lot of stressed out ballplayers in Dodger Stadium this season, but the additional nerves won't have anything to do with the hunt for a World Series ring. The sweaty brows and gnashing teeth out on the field can be blamed on the city of Los Angeles's new ban on chewing tobacco at the stadium. According to the LA Times, the LA City Council approved an ordinance today to ban smokeless tobacco from all sports venues in the city. Passed by a unanimous 14-0 vote, Councilmember Jose Huizar's ordinance to ban chewing tobacco at stadiums joins similar anti-tobacco ordinances passed by San Francisco and Boston last year. All three will take effect starting this spring, just in time for opening day.
The ramifications of a smokeless tobacco ban in LA could be huge for the sport of baseball. According to Major League Baseball, about 33 percent of players use some form of smokeless tobacco during games. While that is down from 50 percent 20 years ago, the league still considers it a priority to get players off chew. MLB attempted a tobacco ban at its last collective bargaining agreement, but the spit-lovin' players' union shot it down. Individual city ordinances like LA's might be the only way to effectively get players off the dip.
Penalties for players who violate the ordinance have not been announced yet, and it remains to be seen whether the ordinance will actually have any teeth to it. It has been reported that violations of San Francisco's similar tobacco ban result in a penalty somewhere between a parking ticket and a $250 fine. For some players, that might just be a small tax on maintaining their addiction.
The Los Angeles ban doesn't sit well with some of the visiting players who will have to keep the chew in their lockers when they visit Chavez Ravine. Cubs relief pitcher James Russell doesn't believe tobacco bans will stop him from dipping and boasts, "it's not like they can tell us not to do it." Cubs catcher David Ross doesn't even chew tobacco, but is worried about the effects of the ban on teammates who have made chew a part of their playing routine, saying "it's hard to tell somebody what tools they can take to their work." Others have taken a more libertarian stance, pointing out that chewing tobacco is a legally obtainable drug, and the ban is overstepping. White Sox third baseman Gordon Beckham says chewing tobacco is "a person's right to do what he wants to do."
On the other hand, some players welcome the ban. Dodgers reliever JP Howell says "ban it. Do me a favor." Howell has been looking for an excuse to quit chewing for some time, and the ban might finally push him to commit to it.
· City Council votes to eject smokeless tobacco from Dodger Stadium, other venues [LA Times]
· MLB players: Trying to enforce smokeless tobacco ban futile for cities [Chicago Tribune]