Reno Aces' manager Brett Butler quit using tobacco partly because he didn't want to get throat cancer. Fifteen years later, it happened anyway.
In the winter of 1995, Butler developed a sore throat. In May of 1996, the former Southeastern Oklahoma State University star was diagnosed with cancer of the tonsils.
Butler said he dipped snuff almost daily while playing minor league baseball.
“I started in A ball,” said Butler, whose team is in Oklahoma City for a four-game series with the RedHawks. “I got two or three hits and dipped for about 2½ years.”
Butler said he quit not long after he arrived in the big leagues when a 10-year-old boy told him that he dipped snuff because Butler did.
“I relished being a positive role model, so I told that little boy that if he promised me that he would quit, I would quit,” Butler said Wednesday before the Aces' game with the RedHawks.
“I haven't had a dip since. I also quit because I didn't want to get throat cancer, ironically enough.”
Butler played 17 seasons in the major leagues with five different clubs. He is a former All-Star and finished his career with .290 batting average and 2,375 hits.
Butler was diagnosed with cancer near the end of his major league career while he was playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After surgery and intensive treatment to combat the disease, Butler returned to finish the '96 season for the Dodgers and played one more year before retiring.
Doctors told Butler that his tobacco use might have caused the throat cancer but it's uncertain.
“I tend to think it probably was, and that is what I preach,” he said.
Tobacco use has always been part of the culture of baseball and still is today, Butler said.
When he was using, Butler said he rarely dipped in the offseason. It was only when he put on the baseball uniform that he felt a need to take a dip.
Tobacco use is banned in baseball's minor leagues but not in the major leagues. Butler said that makes the tobacco ban difficult to enforce, especially at the Triple-A level where players often move back and forth from the major leagues.
“They go to the big leagues they can (use tobacco), then they go down and they tell them they can't,” he said. “I've got a guy 37-years-old, and you are going to tell him he can't dip.
“I know what they are trying to do. I understand what they are trying to do, but it's hard to enforce when you've got guys that have the ability to do it a the big league level and they come down here and they have been dipping their whole lives. It's kind of a catch-22.”
Players in the minor leagues will sneak around and use tobacco anyway, Butler said.
“I tell them what it's done to me, that it could have been a contributing factor, but a lot of times guys don't listen until it hits the house,” Butler said.
“Guys on this team know that I had throat cancer from dipping, and some guys still have done it. The bottom line is until it hits them directly, they really won't take inventory of it.”
Butler, 54, also has recovered from prostate cancer. Butler is in his third season as manager of the Aces, but his ultimate goal, just like his players, is to make the major leagues.
“That's why I'm still doing it,” he said.