MINNEAPOLIS -- As the recent death of Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer continues to resonate in baseball circles, commissioner Bud Selig and players' association executive director Tony Clark both want Major League Baseball to make strides toward reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of smokeless tobacco in the game.
It remains to be seen if they can find the common ground necessary to make that goal a reality.
While Selig expects the subject to be part of negotiations toward a new labor agreement over the next two years, Clark on Tuesday expressed the hope that smokeless tobacco use among players will diminish through greater efforts to educate them on the health hazards. Clark said the union is open to discussing the issue in labor talks but wants the use of smokeless tobacco to remain a matter of individual choice and does not advocate an outright ban.
"We believe the numbers suggest that usage has declined significantly," Clark said. "It's declined in the minor leagues and the major leagues. Our hope is that we can continue to educate guys on the damage that dipping can do and they will continue to decide not to dip and chew.
"We give the players the opportunity to make the decision they're going to make against the backdrop of it being legal. At the end of the day, we don't condone it and they know we don't condone it."
Selig and Clark made their comments during an annual All-Star Game session with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. They also gave their thoughts on the state of replay, the recent spate of pitchers' arm injuries and numerous other issues affecting the game.
Gwynn, an eight-time batting champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer, died June 16 at age 54. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and said publicly he believed the illness was caused by his longtime use of chewing tobacco.
Since Gwynn's death, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg and Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed have said they plan to give up smokeless tobacco. Both pitchers played for Gwynn during his tenure as coach at San Diego State.
While smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues, MLB opted for more modest restrictions with a series of rules enacted in 2011. Teams no longer provide tobacco to players, and players are prohibited from carrying tobacco cans in their uniforms or doing on-camera interviews while chewing.
The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and seven other public health organizations recently wrote a letter to Selig and Clark advocating an outright ban, saying tobacco use "endangers the health of major league ballplayers" and "sets a terrible example for the millions of young people who watch baseball at the ballpark or on TV."
Both Selig and Clark said Gwynn's death took a personal toll and helped amplify their strong feelings on the need to eliminate tobacco use in the game. Selig said he gained major insight into the hazards of chewing tobacco from his surgeon at a New York hospital while being treated for melanoma 10 years ago. He spoke to Joe Garagiola, one of baseball's most vocal opponents of smokeless tobacco use, on the day of Gwynn's death.