Bud Selig: smokeless tobacco should be banned in the majors

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There has been increasing pressure from anti-tobacco groups — and Congress — on Major League Baseball to do something about smokeless tobacco use by major leaguers. To date, baseball has merely acknowledged that it’s and issue, noted that it’s already banned at minor league parks and has made mention of the fact that doing anything with tobacco is a matter of collective bargaining.

That changed yesterday, when Commissioner Selig took a position on the matter:

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 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.

This comes two days after top public health officials in 15 Major League Baseball cities sent a letter to Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association asking them to ban tobacco use by players, managers, coaches and other staff at major league ballparks. And it comes at a time when smokeless tobacco use among high school boys has seen a 36 percent increase in the past eight years. According to the CDC, 15 percent of high school boys currently use smokeless tobacco.

I’m usually the last guy who will respond to “think of the children” appeals and I am a strong advocate of letting grownups do what they damn well please. But I think allowing ballplayers to dip and chew while they’re at the ballpark is something that has to end. It does nothing to enhance the game. Kids see that an take their use as tacit approval. It’s really, really dangerous to ballplayers’ health. Oh, and it’s totally disgusting too.  Viva principle, but in this case, a ballplayer’s personal freedom is outweighed by the factors that demand it be curtailed, at least during working hours.

Hard to say if the union fights this. Their impulse probably would normally be to do so, and I get why that is. But the last time principle trumped sense when it came to negotiations regarding substances used by ballplayers it led to unchecked steroids use which, in my view, was one of the few if only times the MLBPA did a disservice to its membership, both from a PR perspective and from the perspective of the players’ actual best interests.

Use Selig’s call for a smokeless tobacco ban to extract something else you want, Michael Weiner, because I realize that’s how these things work. But ultimately, agree to a ban on smokeless tobacco on ballpark premises. It’s the right thing to do.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.