I've never seen the Dip Police. I've never witnessed one of their raids, never felt their wrath.
I spent the majority of my Rookie season doubting such a tobacco task force even existed. I assumed the whole mythical concept had been dreamed up by the league offices as a way to deter the use of chewing tobacco and dip among minor leaguers. Scare tactics, I thought.
Not to mention: guys going around the country, popping into MiLB stadiums every night to inspect the players on the field- determining whether or not they had anything underneath their lip, or tucked between their cheek and gums? Seemed pretty far-fetched to me.
Nope. They're out there. And they're watching your every move.
I've heard legend of epic Dip Police invasions and searches- most of which I'm assuming are fabricated, or at least grossly exaggerated.
There's the kid who got bagged for merely having little dip crumbs on the floor around his stall; the player whose tin was found in a heap of garbage after thorough inspection of the clubhouse trash can; the guy who got nabbed for having BreathSavers in his back pocket during a game- a circular container that simply looked like a can of spitting tobacco; and perhaps my personal favorite, the kid who got fined for having boxers with a Skoal logo on them hanging from a hook in his locker.
If there's one thing to learn from these tall tales, it's that Minor League Baseball is not messing around.
The organization even tells us to be careful how we chew our gum or spit sunflowers seeds- anything that even looks like tobacco will be reported.
There's essentially a zero-tolerance policy in the minors regarding tobacco. In an effort to clean up the game's image, as well as raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco use, it's completely banned with consequences in place- no questions asked.
So what are the consequences?
If a player gets caught using tobacco- dip, chaw, the occasional cigarette in the on-deck circle- he is issued a $100 fine. Not too steep, right?
But, in concurrence with the player's fine, the team's manager is also fined $1000. Yes, there's an extra zero in there: one thousand dollars.
The message: managers need to regulate their team's tobacco use or they will pay- literally.
In dealing with such punishments, every manager I have played for has addressed the matter with the same ingenuity: "Do what you guys want with dip and chew, but know this: it's illegal, and if you get caught you're looking at a $1100 fine."
They know it's out of their control- guys aren't just gonna stop dipping, it's not that easy- so they simply wash their hands of the issue and place all the responsibility on the players. 'You wanna do it? Fine. But you gotta deal with the consequences.' Can't say I blame them.
As one of the few guys on the team who doesn't dip or chew, I'm part of the minority that doesn't live in fear of the Dip Police. So when teammates are scrambling around the dugout and clubhouse trying to hide their tobacco contraband, I can breathe easy knowing that the bulk of my month's salary isn't in jeopardy.
It's quite the scene when the Dip Police do make an appearance at a game. As I said, I've never seen them with my own eyes, but somehow our trainers always do. Perhaps they get tipped off somehow- or maybe the guys wear big signs, or "Dip Police" T-shirts - but just before game time you'll hear a whispered warning: "Dip Police! Hide your dip, go! Put it away, get rid of it!"
A hushed yet chaotic scramble falls over both dugouts- I sit there thinking there's no way these inspectors don't know what's going on. They must just laugh as they look on at the havoc their mere presence has created- what power!
It's days like these I find myself happy to be a gum guy.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Total Guess: I'd Say 80-85% of minor leaguers use smokeless tobacco.
MiLB LIFE Series
Do You Have an Agent?
How Long Until You're in the Bigs?
Being a Senior Sign
Universal Big League Dreams
Explaining My Profession to Non-Baseball Minds
Wasted Hat Collection
Dealing with Heckling Fans
Being the New Guy
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court