Major League Baseball may or may not be "America's pastime" these days, but whatever its ranking, the sport still occupies a prominent spot in American culture and in fans' affections. There can be no doubt, either, that pro baseball players remain role models for many youngsters. They should use that influence wisely. One way to do so is stop their highly visible use of smokeless tobacco.
"Smokeless" is a new way to describe chewing tobacco and snuff. A dip or a chew has long been associated with baseball and those who play it. Indeed, a team photo of a major league team during much of baseball's history likely would depict many players with a bulge in their check or a telltale drip at the corner of their mouth.
Tobacco use once was acceptable -- before the connection between the product and cancer and other diseases was confirmed. Now, anti-tobacco campaigns are widespread and often successful. One place where the campaigns have had little success is Major League Baseball. Just take a look at players in the on-going World Series.
There's considerable pressure for major league ballplayers to quit dipping and chewing -- and spitting and drooling -- on the playing field. There's good reason for the campaign. It's a public health issue, particularly as it relates to youngsters. Kids who watch their favorite players chew or dip think it's cool to chew or dip, too. That's dangerous.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that about 15 percent of high school boys -- an age where sports figures often assume heroic status -- now use smokeless tobacco. Youngsters who use it are far more likely than others to smoke as an adult. We all know the dangers of smoking.
Every effort to ban tobacco from the major leagues has failed, despite support from baseball executives, public and private health groups, high profile members of Congress and many ballplayers. The stumbling block? It's the players union, which apparently puts bargaining rights and other peripheral issues ahead of the health of its members, the general public and youngsters who idolize and imitate players.
That opposition should stop. There's no longer a place for tobacco -- a nasty habit and a menace to health -- in major league baseball. A ban should be imposed. The quicker the better for all involved.