ST. LOUIS » A year into his major league career Lance Lynn stood at a crossroad in his life.
He was a daily user of smokeless tobacco dating back to his minor league days, when a dip became an antidote to the off-day boredom faced by starting pitchers, a tasty time-killer and social stress reliever.
He knew the risks, as all ballplayers do. Warning labels shout from the three-dollar metal cans. But in baseball the stuff is ingrained in the game, going back to Babe Ruth’s day.
Still, it was time for Lynn to quit. With his first child set be born that offseason, Lynn stopped cold turkey after the 2011 playoffs. His daughter, Mia, now 2 years old, both inspired his decision and reinforces it every day.
"Is it worth not being around for my kids later on?" Lynn said. "That was my way of stopping. Every time I thought of taking one I thought about her."
It has been just more than a month since the death of Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer, and in that time at least two major leaguers — Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Arizona’s Addison Reed — have pledged to quit using the smokeless tobacco that Gwynn said triggered his disease.
Colloquially known around clubhouses as "dip" or "chew," smokeless tobacco contains 28 carcinogens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is a known cause of oral cancer.
It famously disfigured former American League outfielder Bill Tuttle, who publicly advocated against the substance before it took his life in 1998. And even though before his death doctors told Gwynn his career-long habit wasn’t necessarily linked to his cancer, Gwynn himself was convinced, and that was enough for the baseball world.
Gwynn’s death and the reason for it "smacks you in the eyes," MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark said during All-Star weekend. "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."
"At the end of the day," Clark added, "we don’t condone it, and they know we don’t condone it."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 6 percent of adult American men use smokeless tobacco — about half the rate of twenty years ago.
That’s due in no small part to the fact that Lynn, 27, and many other Cardinals are part of a generation of ballplayers that, thanks to an overload of information, the threat of fines while in the minor leagues, and, frankly, a heavy dose of fear, harnesses an acute sense of awareness.
Many made their decisions long before making the big leagues. Many of those first-encounter stories involve someone puking.
"I saw a kid during my freshman year in high school who threw one in for five minutes and threw up all over the place," said reliever Jason Motte, 32. "I looked around and said, ‘I’m good.’ "
And almost all dippers encounter this problem.
"My fiancee hated it," said Kolten Wong, 26, who gave it up without much effort.