WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. senators and health officials are taking on a baseball tradition older than the World Series itself: chewing tobacco on the diamond.
With the Series set to begin Wednesday between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers - a team that started life as the Washington Senators 50 years ago - the senators, along with health officials from the teams' cities, want the players union to agree to a ban on chewing tobacco at games and on camera. They made the pleas in separate letters, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
"When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example," the senators wrote to union head Michael Weiner. The letter was signed by Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and fellow Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa.
The senators noted that millions of people will tune in to watch the World Series, including children.
"Unfortunately, as these young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products," they wrote. Smokeless tobacco includes chewing tobacco and dip.
With baseball's current collective bargaining agreement expiring in December, the senators, some government officials and public health groups want the players to agree to a tobacco ban in the next contract. A coalition including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association has been pushing for one since last year.
"Such an agreement would protect the health of players and be a great gift to your young fans," the senators wrote. Durbin also sent copies of the letter to the player representatives for his home state teams, the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs, as well as the representative for the Cardinals, a team that draws Illinois fans from across the river in Missouri.
Commissioner Bud Selig endorsed the ban in March, but the players union hasn't committed to one.
Weiner said in June that a "sincere effort" will be made to address the issue. Union spokesman Greg Bouris said Tuesday that since the issue is subject to collective bargaining which is currently taking place, it would be inappropriate to comment.
In Senate speech Tuesday, Durbin said, "Let's not let the health and safety of young baseball fans across America be a bargaining chip between the major league players and the owners. Let's win one for the kids across America."
Some baseball players interviewed by The Associated Press last month were receptive to the idea, but others viewed a ban as an infringement on their freedom. Baseball banned smokeless tobacco in the non-unionized minor leagues in the 1990s, and recent call-ups from the minors spoke of "Dip Police" who would come through clubhouses and cite players if they saw tobacco at their lockers, subjecting violators to fines.Should baseball players stop using tobacco during games?