MINNEAPOLIS — Much to Commissioner Bud Selig's chagrin, chewing tobacco has been almost as much a part of Major League Baseball over the years as "Play Ball!" and the seventh-inning stretch.
It's ingrained in the culture of the game and is evident anytime a player steps on the sticky floor of a big-league dugout.
As owners and the players' union begin negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, Selig hopes the time has finally come to rid the game of the unhealthy habit.
In a letter to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids on Thursday, Selig told the group's president he believes "smokeless tobacco should be banned at the Major League level."
In order to make that happen, the owners have to negotiate with the players' union and have the ban added to the next collective bargaining agreement.
"In the current round of bargaining with the MLBPA, MLB will propose restrictions on the use of smokeless tobacco at the Major League level comparable to the restrictions in place at the Minor League level," Selig wrote.
Smokeless tobacco, including dip and chew, is banned in minor league ballparks.
Union chief Michael Weiner said in February that he expected the subject to be broached in the upcoming talks.
"I'm not going to make any predictions about where we're going to go with it, but I do expect it to be an issue," Weiner said then.
Selig's letter was in response to one sent to the commissioner's office this winter from public health officials in 15 MLB cities that urged baseball to ban tobacco use by all personnel in the ballpark.
The officials cited smokeless tobacco's links to oral cancers, gum disease and other health problems and recent statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that use of the products among high school boys is up 36 percent since 2003 as reasons to ban it. The group also launched an online campaign – – to raise awareness. http://www.tobaccofreebaseball.org
"Baseball players are role models for our children, making impressions that last a lifetime," Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health in Seattle and King County, Wash., said in a statement. "It's time for major leaguers to step up to the plate like the rest of professional baseball and go tobacco-free."
Baseball banned tobacco use in the minor leagues in 1993, but it is still common in the majors. Last month Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Dick Durbin of Illinois sent a letter to Selig and Weiner calling on them to ban smokeless tobacco.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in December.