Baseball should ban smokeless tobacco

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After Tony Gwynn — Stephen Strasburg’s college coach — was diagnosed with parotid cancer, Stephen Strasburg decided to give up smokeless tobacco:

“I’m still in the process of quitting,” Strasburg, 22, said. “I’ve made a lot of strides, stopped being so compulsive with it. I’m hoping I’m going to be clean for spring training. It’s going to be hard, because it’s something that’s embedded in the game … I’m not going to sit here and be the spokesperson for quitting dipping. I’m doing it for myself. I’m not saying anything about anybody else – it’s their personal choice. For me, it’s the best decision.”

Good for him. I wish him luck.  And I agree with his sentiments about having to do it for himself as opposed to this being some larger principled stand.  It’s really hard and sometimes counterproductive to shame people into quitting tobacco. My mom smoked, and God knows how hard we’ve all tried to stop her. I wish it wasn’t the case, but the fact was that it wasn’t until she wanted to stop that she did. I think most people are that way with tobacco and other addictive substances.

Not that baseball shouldn’t try.  While direct appeals didn’t help my mom quit smoking, the fact of restaurant and workplace bans made it way harder for her to keep it up.  Smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues. It should be in the majors too, at least at the ballparks and when players are on the clock, as it were.  As Strasburg himself notes, kids definitely emulate the habit after seeing major leaguers do it.  What’s more, smokeless tobacco is way more dangerous for players’ health than steroids are and is way more easily obtainable for kids than steroids are.  Plus, it’s totally disgusting, yo.  How do these guys manage to keep girlfriends with that crap in their mouths?

As the article notes, the union believes this to be a matter for collective bargaining.  I think, however, that this is an issue like steroids was: protecting the players’ rights to use — be it directly or indirectly — is worse for the players in the long run than simply agreeing to a ban would be.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.