Stephen Strasburg attempts to quit smokeless tobacco
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; 12:09 AM
Like any other high school kid, Stephen Strasburg wanted to emulate the major league baseball players he watched on television. He mimicked their actions down to the last detail. He rolled his pants up to reveal high socks, wore wristbands at the plate and, during downtime, opened tins of chewing tobacco and pinched some in his lower lip.
Years later, having developed a powerful addiction, Strasburg regrets ever trying smokeless tobacco. Last fall, Tony Gwynn – his college coach at San Diego State and one of those players he grew up idolizing – began radiation treatments for parotid cancer, a diagnosis Gwynn blamed on using smokeless tobacco.
In the wake of Gwynn’s cancer diagnosis, Strasburg has resolved to quit smokeless tobacco while he recuperates from Tommy John surgery. He doesn’t want to face the myriad health risks borne from tobacco use, and he doesn’t want kids who want to be like him to see him with a packed lower lip. Strasburg conflates many activities with dipping, and he has yet to eradicate the habit. But he is determined he will.
“I’m still in the process of quitting,” Strasburg, 22, said. “I’ve made a lot of strides, stopped being so compulsive with it. I’m hoping I’m going to be clean for spring training. It’s going to be hard, because it’s something that’s embedded in the game.”
Smokeless tobacco has long been entrenched in baseball. In the 1980s, wads of it bulged in batters’ cheeks. More recently, tins of what players call “dip” form circular outlines on players’ back pockets. Managers, players and coaches use it occupy time during the lulls of a game and to feel the rush of nicotine it provides, a momentary buzz of energy that many come to believe – erroneously – benefits their performance.