Gwynn's death helped change MLB culture on smokeless tobacco

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) Tony Gwynn's death from oral cancer was a turning point in baseball's culture that long tolerated smokeless tobacco.

Baseball's new labor contract, agreed to last week, bans chew among players with no current major league service time. The Hall of Famer's death at age 54 two years ago shook up many in the industry.

''What happened to Tony Gwynn, you don't want that to happen again,'' Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. said Monday at the winter meetings.

Gwynn, a longtime San Diego star, and Ripken, who spent his entire career with Baltimore, were close friends and were inducted into the Hall together in 2007 after their first-ballot elections.

''A lot of people, probably including myself, stood back and said, well, life is what it is. It's not illegal. People make choices all the time,'' Ripken said. ''But once you see what can happen and how fast it can happen, I think it does make you think about it differently.''

Several cities have banned smokeless tobacco in big league ballparks, and the new labor agreement allows players to be fined for violations. Current big leaguers are grandfathered against the change.

''It's about time. I've never chewed, never dipped or anything like,'' Atlanta All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman said. ''A lot of kids look up to us. If they were to see us on TV with a big chew, dip in our mouths, they could go do that.''

For the last five seasons, big league players were prohibited from carrying tobacco products, including tins and packages, onto the field when fans were in the ballpark.

''To the extent that the world has changed, we respectfully had the conversations that we did in acknowledgment of those changes whole also appreciating that ... a lot of players are making the decisions on their own to quit,'' union head Tony Clark said.

Ripken, who never chewed, has seen a shift in his youth programs.

''Kids are watching really closely,'' he said. ''When we see sunflower seeds as a problem in our complexes, we're happy with that.''

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