Tony Gwynn, the San Diego Padres’ longtime outfielder and one of baseball’s greats, died Monday of oral cancer.
The mild-mannered, unassuming Hall of Famer had a cackle of a laugh that made viewers laugh right along with him. He self-admittedly had used ‘smokeless’ tobacco for decades, a habit that probably brought the role model down after a five year struggle with the disease. Gwynn was closing in on Ted Williams’ phenomenal batting average of over .400 when a strike-shortened season ended his run. Gwynn was an eight-time National League batting champion who had 3,141 career hits and a .338 batting average overall.
A survey administered by baseball in 1999 found that close to one-third of rookies starting in the major leagues were already regular smokeless tobacco users, and more than two-thirds had tried it. The habit was prevalent throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Its use only began declining in the late 1990s, say online sources.
Tony Gwynn was a humble man, never seeking broader pastures over his beloved Padres even as others rose to higher and higher salaries elsewhere.
He spent his entire career in San Diego. He helped them to two World Series, in 1984 and 1998. “For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in a statement issued Monday. Gwynn died at age 54.
Smokeless tobacco has at least 28 known carcinogens, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and is a known cancer-causing agent. But its tough for users to quit. Nicotine is a powerful drug; as a cigarette smoker for over 25 years, I can attest to the difficulty in quitting. I put tobacco behind me in 1986, quitting on my 39th birthday, sort of like a birthday present to myself. It took me months to get over the cravings and it was at least a year before I found myself not thinking about cigarettes nearly constantly. But if I could quit, so can others. Whether smoking cigarettes or using smokeless tobacco, it’s addictive and harmful, and these days, quite expensive. If you don’t smoke or use, don’t start. If you do, quit. Those who love you will help in any way they can.