Even Dude Shaken By Butler News Lenny Dykstra Has Quit Chewing. So Has Curt Schilling. The Threat Of Cancer Is Why.

Posted: June 01, 1996

If you don't believe Brett Butler's throat cancer threw the fear of God into ballplayers, consider this one astonishing fact:

Lenny Dykstra has quit using tobacco.

The Phillies centerfielder, the jaw-bulging epitome of the spitting, tobacco-chomping ballplayer, gave it up during the Phillies' recent West Coast trip after learning that Butler, another tobacco-user, was suffering from throat cancer.

``Lenny hasn't had a chew since we were in Los Angeles,'' said Curt Schilling during a pregame news conference with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) aimed at making this year's All-Star Game in Philadelphia a tobacco-free event. ``I think he talked to Butler's family while we were out there and that did it.''

Dykstra, whose image is associated with tobacco as strongly as John Kruk's was with a sixpack, was not immediately available for comment last night.

Dring the pregame session, Schilling revealed that in the wake of the news about Butler, he and several other Phils approached trainer Jeff Cooper about quitting the smokeless-tobacco habit.

``Coop suggested that I quit on my son's first birthday,'' said Schilling, who had the habit for 13 years.

Gehrig Schilling turned 1 on Monday. On Tuesday, for the first time he can remember, Schilling pitched a game without taking a pinch of tobacco between innings. He allowed one run in seven innings.

``It's by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do,'' Schilling said. ``I'd be lying if I said I didn't cheat a time or two since Monday, but I'm determined to quit. The thought of my son losing his father at 21 the way I did or the way my father did was frightening to me.''

Smokeless tobacco, which includes the long-leafed chewing variety and the more-concentrated pinch, has long been a part of baseball. Early players dribbled spittle over their uniforms and the first trading cards were produced by a tobacco company.

Babe Ruth, said Cooper, died of tobacco-related cancer.

``I began using it on a dare when I was a sophomore in high school,'' said Schilling. ``I tried it and I liked it.''

Schilling said there probably were four or five Phillies who, like him, dipped tobacco - placing a small amount of the concentrated tobacco between their cheeks and mouths. Another three or four chewed. Some did both.

Dr. John Slade of the Medical Society of New Jersey said tobacco companies now specifically target teenage boys.

``Over the past 20 years, [the companies have] developed a loyal following among boys, a market that was virtually nonexistent in 1971,'' Slade said.

A 1995 University of Michaigan study, said Slade, showed that 11.8 percent of eighth-grade boys had used smokeless tobacco in the previous month.

``The habit used to be picked up when guys got to the big leagues,'' said Phillies trainer Cooper. ``Now they're coming into baseball with the addiction.''

``Who knows what it's done to my body,'' said Schilling. ``One thing I know happened is that it took away my sense of smell. A day or two after I quit, I went into my son's room and I said to my wife, `What is that smell?'

``It was my son's dirty diaper,'' he said. ``Is that unbelievable?''

* ETC. Tony Longmire, who almost certainly will miss all of this season after surgery on his left wrist, is rehabbing in Philadelphia now. ``It's getting better,'' said Longmire, two bags of ice strapped to the wrist. ``It's still going to take a little time.'' . . . J.R. Phillips cleared waivers and the demoted first-baseman is expected to join the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in time for today's game in Toledo.

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