Pinch quitting: Rangers laying off the chew

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 06, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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CBA on smokeless tobacco

Players, managers, and coaches will be prohibited from using smokeless tobacco during televised interviews and club appearances. In addition, at any time when fans are permitted in the ballpark, players, managers and coaches must conceal tobacco products (including packages and tins), and may not carry tobacco products in their uniforms or on their bodies. Individuals who violate the policy will be subject to discipline. The parties also agreed upon an extensive program of education and public outreach regarding the dangers of smokeless tobacco.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- To see left-hander Matt Harrison on the mound, as he was Tuesday during his 2012 Cactus League debut, is hardly something new.

He made 30 regular-season starts last year during a breakthrough campaign, and all 62 of his career starts and 94 of his appearances have come with the Texas Rangers since 2008.

But Tuesday marked the first time as a professional -- whether in spring training, the regular season or the playoffs -- that Harrison pitched without a dip of chew in his mouth.

Quitting smokeless tobacco was a personal choice for Harrison, one made after detecting a sore in his mouth last season, and it coincides with wording in the new collective bargaining agreement that limits when players can have a dip.

He doesn't regret his decision, and others are on board with baseball's efforts to limit the exposure of tobacco use.

"I used to dip a lot," said Harrison, who started the habit when he was in high school. "It was more a habit than anything. It wasn't like I really wanted to do it. I'd get that craving that I had to have one."

Harrison, 26, tossed two scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks as the Rangers picked up their first spring win, 16-3. He allowed a hit and plunked a batter but needed only 22 pitches to record six outs.

He didn't feel an urge for a dip before his start, but was tempted slightly the other day while paying for gas and seeing several tins at the cash register.

Chew isn't hard to find in the clubhouse even with teams banned from providing it, but its use isn't a topic many players want to discuss. They are aware, though, of the hazards of chewing and know that it can slow recovery from injury.

They also know about the plight of Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, who has blamed the use of smokeless tobacco for the growth of two cancerous tumors in his right cheek.

Now the coach at San Diego State, Gwynn underwent a second operation last month, and it could be 18 months until he regains movement in the right side of his face.

Josh Hamilton rates as the Rangers' most famous tobacco user. The four-time All-Star has attempted to stop as recently as last season and wants to quit for good.

"I'm just going to have to do it," he said. "First of all, it's bad for me and I want to be around for my kids and wife. Secondly, it's too much hassle."

He was referring to the clauses in the CBA that prohibit players from using smokeless tobacco during televised interviews or from carrying tobacco on the field in their back pocket.

Hamilton supports the new measures, as does Nelson Cruz, who said that he uses occasionally during the season and hasn't had any tobacco since the World Series.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to help so the kids don't see it," Cruz said. "But we are old enough to know what's good for us. We make our own decisions on what to do and what not."

Harrison made his. It was a decision for his short-term health and to make sure he does everything he can to be around for his daughter, who was born in December.

"I had a spot in my mouth. I had a kid on the way, too. That's pretty much what made me stop," he said. "I feel better. My body feels better. My mouth feels better. I'm glad I did it."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter:@JeffWilson_FWST

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