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How to spit on umpires' feet without getting caught

Play ball! From the impromptu games of "town ball" in the 1800s, through Jackie Robinson's Montreal Royals to the Expos and Blue Jays, Canadians have always been infatuated with baseball. But getting big league teams to come to Canada proved harder than hitting a grand slam. It took decades of persuading, promoting, wheeling and dealing, but eventually America's favourite pastime found a home in the great white north.

Blue Jays fever is sweeping Toronto, and the spring of 1977 is all about baseball. The players are instant heroes and every statistic, every nuance is analysed to the fullest. That includes some of the more questionable traditions of the game. In an effort to better understand baseball culture, Danny Finkleman visits Exhibition Stadium for a lesson in the most disgusting of all baseball rituals; tobacco chewing.
• Chewing tobacco ("chaw") is a form of "smokeless tobacco" that comes in a can or pouch. A user "dips" a wad of tobacco between the cheek and gum and spits out the "juice." The habit became popular in the American west during the 1800s when baseball rules were first written. Players found it helped keep their mouths moist in dusty ballparks and used the spit to soften their gloves.

• Appealing to the historical tie to baseball, tobacco manufacturers gave free samples of chewing tobacco to college and professional baseball teams in the 1970s to encourage them to chew. Baseball is one of the few professional sports where such a habit would not disrupt game play.

• A survey in 1987 showed that half of the major league players surveyed had used chewing tobacco at some point and a third were current users.

• Chewing tobacco delivers as much (or more) nicotine as cigarettes. Nicotine is addictive. Side effects include increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Chewing tobacco greatly increases the risk of oral cancers and diseases of the gums and mouth.

• Babe Ruth, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, was an avid "dipper." He died at age 52 of an oropharyngeal tumour (cancer in first part of the throat, by the mouth). These tumours are commonly caused by tobacco use.

• Bob Miller was a major league pitcher for 17 seasons, playing on 10 different teams (one of only three Major League Baseball players ever to do so). He retired in 1974 and became the Blue Jays first pitching coach. He is credited with turning Blue Jays legend Dave Stieb from an outfielder into one of the best pitchers the team has ever had. Miller died on Aug. 6, 1993.
Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: May 18, 1977
Guest(s): Bob Miller
Host: Peter Gzowski
Reporter: Danny Finkleman
Duration: 3:07

Last updated: May 14, 2013

Page consulted on March 3, 2014

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