By Frank James
By now, everyone knows that Washington Nationals ace pitcher, rookie Stephen Strasburg is the real deal.
His debut lived up to all the hype, with the 21-year old throwing furious heat into the seventh inning. He had 14 strikeouts and no walks, getting his first major league win against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 5-2 win Tuesday evening.
But what I had somehow missed in all the coverage leading up to his debut is this: the young man uses dip, that is, smokeless tobacco.
Reading some of the Washington Post coverage Wednesday morning, I came across a description of the Nats clubhouse scene which starts off with a mention of Strasburg's wife:
While Rachel was making an early run on the Nationals' Team Store -- coming away with a bagful of limited-edition Strasburg 37 jerseys, and paying full price -- her husband was taking batting practice in an indoor cage, with a tin of dip tobacco in his back pocket and a pinch between his gum and lower lip.
As Phil Rizzuto and Harry Caray might have said: Holy Cow! Or as was said in an earlier baseball era, say it ain't so.
So Strasburg has a weakness after all.
Major League Baseball has for years wanted to get rid of smokeless tobacco, a known carcinogen which causes some of the most hideous cancers of the mouth and throat imaginable. It has been banned in the minors since 1993, though players there still sneak it.
For years, there's been a concerted effort to keep young people from starting the dip habit, especially because of the mistaken impression that it's safer than smoking tobacco.
The mlb.fanhouse.com site has an informative story that provides plenty of background on the use of the product in the majors and efforts to prohibit it. Apparently, the players' union has opposed a ban.
But there are players who support a ban, who understand that they are role models to youngsters, according to the Fanhouse piece:
An excerpt from the piece:
"I would be for [a ban]," A's infielder Eric Chavez said. "I don't do it. Sometimes when I'm watching the games you see a guy throw in a big dip and the camera focuses in on it, I know kids are watching. You want guys to be able to do what they want. Everyone is an adult, but you also have to be aware of the message that you send to kids. ... Since I don't dip, I think I'd be an advocate for trying to get it out of the game, or at least off the field."
As was made clear last night, Strasburg draws a lot of attention and will no doubt be a role model for many youngsters, especially because, by all accounts, he is a humble and level-headed young man.
So his use of snuff is the kind of practice many people will find worrisome, not only for the personal health of one of the most gifted young pitchers baseball has ever seen but for the message it could send to many youngsters who may try to imitate their newest hero.