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The baseball world mourns the passing of Tony Gwynn

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Former San Diego Padres outfielder and National Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is gone, leaving behind a strong legacy of love and achievement. Like most of the sports world, I was sad to hear of Tony Gwynn’s passing Monday. His brilliant light as an athlete and a person was finally dimmed and then shut off forever. He was only 54 years old.

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Tony could beat most pitchers, but cancer took its toll. Although he worked it to a full count, he took a called strike three.

Understand, I did not know Tony Gwynn, but I was in his presence on quite a few times. He truly was one of the greatest batters of all time, but he was a humble, self-effacing man, .

While playing 20 years for the same team, he confessed that he often tucked a dip of snuff on the right side of his mouth. Snuff is a finely ground tobacco which it usually not noticed by others, whereas a “chaw” of tobacco shows a telltale bulge. Eventually, a bulge did occur in the form of a swollen gland. This gland led oncologists to discover and treat cancerous growths in his right cheek.

I have a friend named Dr. Marc Gross, DDS. Today, Marc is a successful periodontist in Encino, Calif. A periodontist, in case you don’t know, deals with gum diseases. I have known Dr. Gross since his mother Susan was wheeling him in a carriage. While he was attended the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry, he took part in a research project that dealt with the effects of smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco or snuff) used by ballplayers. The study took place over a five-year period, examining 1100 ballplayers. UCSF is a school dedicated to promoting health worldwide by advanced biological research.

Dr. Gross participated in this project from 1987-1989. During that time, he and his unit visited Major League Baseball teams during spring training in Arizona. Included among these teams were the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s and California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim). Unfortunately, the Padres were not part of the study.

The study revealed that most of the players utilizing smokeless tobacco had white lesions inside their mouths. These lesions were all biopsied. Treatment was recommended and at least one member of the study, a coach for the Brewers, was discovered to have cancer and was cured with treatment. The study proved beyond a doubt that smokeless tobacco causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer. It can also contribute to oral lesions and gum diseases other than cancer.

As a fan, when Tony was playing, I could not root against him…even during the 1994 season when he hit .394, becoming the player closest to hitting .400 since my hero Ted Williams hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox in 1941. Ted himself called Tony the greatest hitter of the last 60 years. Remember, in the era in which Tony played, it was a time when people like Barry Bonds were breaking all kinds of records assisted by performance-enhancing chemicals.This make what Tony accomplished even more impressive.

In the early 20th Century, baseball and their sponsoring tobacco companies joined forces to create baseball cards featuring the sport's biggest stars. It is interesting to note that Babe Ruth, the biggest star of all, died of throat cancer.

Tony died too young, so his tragic death should be a wake-up call for all of us. A colonoscopy discovered my cancer.

I hope my readers will heed the message. If you are addicted to tobacco and genuinely want to quit, the National Cancer Institute’s smoking quitline is 1-800-44U-QUIT (1-800-448-7848). I wish you well!