SAN JOSE — Sure, Jordan Ribera, a minor league first baseman, had his altruistic reasons for quitting tobacco. He and his wife had a baby in October, and Jordan wants to live long enough to see the kid grow up.
He has also been badgered over the years by his friends, family members and his dentist about the dangers of spit tobacco.
But the thing that pushed the Modesto Nuts slugger into giving up the habit for good was the finances: Ribera had no desire to put his money where his mouth was.
A fine for a minor league player caught with smokeless tobacco can be as high as $1,000. Here at Municipal Stadium, far from the lucrative paychecks of the majors, that's a hefty penalty
Most minor league players earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season.
"Actually, the day after I quit, one of our guys got in trouble with the 'dip police,' " Ribera said before a game against the San Jose Giants. "It's a good thing I quit or that $1,000 fine wouldn't have gone well with Jenny and our next purchase for diapers."
The so-called dip police are monitors who make unannounced clubhouse checks to make sure minor league players aren't using smokeless tobacco, which has been banned in the minors since 1993.
Ribera said he managed to outsmart the monitors for a while. "As a seasoned vet, I always knew how to get around it," he said. "I didn't have anything visible. I'd make sure everything was tucked away."
But upon the birth of Cristiano, on Oct. 25, Ribera stopped running. He quit tobacco for good.
Now, he's encouraging others to do the same. The recent death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn helped start the conversation.
"I hope more guys can take the Tony Gwynn passing more seriously and realize that could be them, too," Ribera said. "If it can happen to Tony Gwynn, it can happen to any of us."
Ribera's manager in Modesto, Don Sneddon, doesn't care why players quit -- just as long as they do. Both of Sneddon's parents were longtime smokers whose lives were cut short by cancer.
Another family friend died of lung cancer after years of smoking. Among the last things she told Sneddon was: "Don't feel sorry for me. I did this to myself."
These days, Sneddon has been known to plop a scale model of a jaw in the middle of the dugout to show the clinical horrors of using tobacco -- lesions, sores, ulcers, etc. Sneddon calls the display Mr. Gross Mouth.
He leaves a note by Mr. Gross Mouth that reads: "Do you want this to happen to you?"
"I think that people, especially young people, think that the rules don't apply to them, whether it's people who smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco," Sneddon said while in San Jose. "And in this case the rule is that you can get cancer."
According to the American Cancer Society, three out of four people who use chewing tobacco have noncancerous or precancerous sores in their mouths. Approximately 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer annually, according to Oral Health America.
Banning usage in the major leagues remains elusive, however, where chewing tobacco is a right permitted by the collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2016.
Sneddon envisions a full ban someday.
"Oh, yeah. It's going to happen," he said. "It's just a matter of time. As more research comes out, it's going to happen. And as these younger players come up and become coaches, it's not going to be quite the issue it was with the (previous generation).
"I would guess that the biggest culprits of this are coaches at the major league level, some of the old-timers that have been around.
"Hopefully, we can be role models for the newer generation coming up."