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.

Joe Maddon is on the hottest of hot seats

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Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic have written a fantastically revealing article about the 2019 Chicago Cubs.

The story, on the surface anyway, might be confused for one of those pre-Opening Day team philosophy pieces in which a bunch of players and executives talk about how they need to “go about their business” a better way, focus on the little things and all of that common, cliche-driven material. And yes, there is a fair amount of that in there.

But the larger arc of it is more revealing than that. The whole thing reads like a warning shot from the front office toward the players and coaching staff, with Joe Maddon standing out as a particular subject of rebuke. Indeed, it’s hard to read the thing without believing that, absent a super fast start and a return to championship form, Maddon is gonna be fired this year.

The article has been shared on social media a lot since going live yesterday, and most of that sharing has focused on little things like the Cubs wanting players to eat less fast food this year and batting practice being mandatory a certain number of days a week. But it’s bigger than that. The article doesn’t contain any incendiary quotes or veiled threats, but it seems pretty clear that Maddon is taking blame for the team not being focused in the past.

Part of that comes from the structure of it. The idea here is that the 2018 season ended badly and that, in the offseason, the front office made a point to talk to the players. Theo Epstein talking to Jason Heyward in the batting cage after everyone else has gone home for the offseason. Epstein, Jed Hoyer and other front office officials visiting Jon Lester at his home in Georgia. Epstein and Hoyer going to Anthony Rizzo‘s wedding in Florida. There’s a lot of talk from all of them about hatching the new forward-looking philosophy but everything from Maddon comes from past quotes or quotes given in reaction to the new philosophy. It seems clear that the front office and the players are on the same page and that Maddon is kinda going along for the ride with it, even if he’s saying all the right things.

As far as the substance of the new 2019 philosophy goes, there is a lot of stuff couched in terms of “here’s a good thing we’re going to start doing this year” that come off like criticisms of Maddon for not doing them in the past.

For example, there is talk about how Maddon plans to talk to players and coach more which are hard to read, in context, as anything other than criticism of him being removed or aloof before. They plan to give players lineups several days in advance, characterized as a means of helping them plan, but there is reference to the sense that they were pressing to impress Maddon and not be written out of the lineup in the past. There’s stuff about how the players are “coddled” with clubhouse amenities and how Maddon’s office was too far away from them and how he talked to the press too much and to the players too little. Again, not explicitly stated as a current criticism but, rather, couched in terms of a “here are good things we’re going to do now.” It’s clear, though, that the unspoken idea is “. . . and we should’ve done it differently before.”

When put together with other things in the article — things like (a) Maddon not getting a contract extension and thus being a lame duck; (b) top executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer making a point to travel with the team more on road trips and show up more in the clubhouse at Wrigley; and (c) a Theo Epstein/Jon Lester-driven narrative that makes references to both the Chicken and Beer and Bobby Valentine-era Red Sox — it all puts one in mind of the late Terry Francona-era Boston Red Sox. To be sure, it’s reported and stated much more more artfully than that. This is not an anonymously-source hit piece driven by a Sox chairman or VP with an axe to grind or anything. It’s a good article. But it makes one think that a message is being sent to and/or about Joe Maddon, even if it’s being sent more subtly than the kind of message you might’ve seen sent in, say, the Boston Globe back in the day.

No matter what you think of it all, it strikes me that Maddon is on the hottest of seats right now and that, if and when he’s fired, this article will stand in hindsight as a pretty obvious harbinger of it.