San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks

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There has been increasing sentiment around baseball that something should be done about the use of smokeless tobacco by ballplayers.

At one point Bud Selig claimed he’d propose a ban on it across all of baseball. While that hasn’t happened, the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement did outlaw conspicuous smokeless tobacco use and smokeless tobacco use has been banned in the minors. Tony Gwynn’s death last year — which may or may not have been attributable to his use of smokeless tobacco — inspired many players to quit. Curt Schilling’s bout with cancer last year likewise shed renewed light on the subject.

But while the anti-smokeless tobacco sentiment has grown, there does not appear to be much momentum behind a total ban in the game. The union, while hoping to discourage tobacco use, opposes an outright ban. Rob Manfred has talked about almost every conceivable topic under the sun since taking over the commissioner’s job, but smokeless tobacco use is not one of them. At this point, not much seems poised to change from Major League Baseball’s perspective.

So, enter the city of San Francisco and the State of California:

A huge wad of chewing tobacco stuffed into a player’s cheek has long been an unofficial symbol of baseball, but a proposed city measure would ban its use at every playing field in San Francisco, including AT&T Park.

The first-in-the-nation measure will be introduced at next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting by Supervisor Mark Farrell, who said it was aimed specifically at baseball. A similar statewide measure was slated to be introduced in Sacramento on Wednesday by Richmond Assemblyman Tony Thurmond.

The bills — if passed — would cover every baseball game “played in connection with an established league or other association of persons,” which includes everything from tee-ball on up to games played in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego.

Major League Baseball is supportive of this, stating in response that “We ardently believe that children should not use or be exposed to smokeless tobacco and we support the spirit of this initiative in California and any others that would help achieve this important goal.” One suspects that, while baseball typically dislikes any governmental regulation of its activities, it would actually be a relief to the Lords of the Realm to have this issue taken out of its own hands and handled by governments. At least that way it wouldn’t have to engage the union over it.

While, if I could wave a magic wand, I’d make tobacco disappear in a second, I’ve gone back and forth on the best way to deal with it in baseball. I’ve, at times, preferred an all-out ban, based on the notion that, unlike so many things which are cited as dangerous examples being set for our nation’s youth, young baseball players do genuinely emulate big leaguers when it comes to smokeless tobacco use. On other occasions, I’ve been mindful of just how difficult the politics of a ban would be given league-union dynamics. Those things make me worry that a war over a legal activity engaged in by adults who are aware of the risks would not be the best priority for Major League Baseball when it comes to policing player behavior.

But a governmental ban is another debate altogether. Yes, there are some easy jokes — and some valid criticisms — to be made about government telling people what they can and cannot do when it comes to their personal habits and their consumption of otherwise legal products (New York’s soda ban, anyone?). There is also the undeniable fact that way fewer people use tobacco today than they did just a couple of decades ago and bans on the use of tobacco in public places have a lot to do with that. Make something difficult enough to do and people — some people anyway — won’t think it’s worth the trouble.

At this point, one has to assume that the next step will be for Big Tobacco to wade into this thing, lobbying folks in an effort to defeat these proposals. Pundits will weigh-in, pro and con, using this as a proxy battle for the larger political and cultural wars which never seem to end. The fact that this is taking place in San Francisco makes this all the easier given the bundle of assumptions and stereotypes the warriors in those battles have about the place. Finally, if these laws are passed, look for lawsuits to be filed because there’s always someone out there who will file a lawsuit when it’d be handy to have one.

As that all plays out, let’s all work privately to help and encourage people in our lives who use tobacco to quit doing so and let us all do whatever we can to prevent kids from ever starting to.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.