BOSTON — Red Sox manager John Farrell knows some of his players use smokeless tobacco. He also knows those players are assuming a huge risk.
Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who used chewing tobacco throughout his career, revealed Wednesday that he’s battling mouth cancer — something he passionately believes is the result of his unhealthy habit. Farrell hopes players across Major League Baseball will take note of Schilling’s ongoing fight and the passing of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who also fought cancer connected to tobacco use.
“Anytime that you’ve got a personal relationship with someone that they’ve been stricken with cancer, it hits closer to home,” Farrell said before Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park. “I certainly can’t speak to those families that have dealt with it with their own siblings or family members, but you have that relationship with someone, and then you see what they’re going through, you care for them, and you’re impacted because you see suffering.
“Hopefully, as I mentioned earlier, that through Curt’s journey and the unfortunate passing of Tony Gwynn — these are two All-Star, Hall of Fame caliber players that should bring added awareness to the players in the game today that they’ve suffered because of the use of smokeless tobacco.”
Farrell couldn’t say for sure how many Red Sox players use smokeless tobacco. He acknowledged, however, that some of his players have been impacted by MLB’s recent effort to crack down on tobacco use.
“MLB is taking steps to dissuade players from using it through educational programs that are administered to every team,” Farrell said. “It’s even gotten to the point now where players can be fined if smokeless tobacco is in view of the general public, and there have been some of those warnings or penalties levied on some of our guys.”
Schilling announced back in February that he had been diagnosed with cancer. It wasn’t until Wednesday — while discussing his story as part of the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon — that he revealed it was mouth cancer likely stemming from tobacco use. Gwynn, who spent 20 seasons as an outfielder for the San Diego Padres, died in June after battling salivary gland cancer.
Smokeless tobacco was banned in the minors in 1993. MLB can’t make such a rule under the collective bargaining agreement, however, so it’s up to the players on whether or not to use the harmful product.
“I think we all recognize that it’s addictive, it causes cancer — that’s proven,” Farrell said. “At this time, it’s upon the player to make the conscious decision for himself if he’s to use it or not. All we can do is continue to educate guys on what the ramifications might be.
“It’s one of the things that’s been kind of the, I don’t want to say a tradition, but it’s been a norm in the baseball culture,” Farrell added. “On the heels on the unfortunate passing of Tony Gwynn and now what Curt’s going through, you would think that this would be more of a current beacon for guys to take note and know that there’s a price to be paid if you’re one of the unfortunate ones that is stricken by cancer.”
Smokeless tobacco might not disappear from baseball anytime soon. But its use certainly has become a hot topic.