‘It was the hardest thing I ever had to do’
(Part 2 of 2) First Published 5/19/1998. American Cancer Society (http://cancer.org)
On the mound, Curt Schilling is the model of control. In 1997, Schilling struck out 319 batters in a season, reaching that milestone faster than any other major league pitcher in history. Pick a spot on home plate, Schilling can hit it. Yet, prior to March 1998, if you asked him to go a day without smokeless tobacco, he would have failed. Although he didn't dip while playing, Schilling was never long without smokeless tobacco. "It dictated my life," he said. "It determined when I ate, slept, and where I went."
The toughness of quitting
He tried to quit once before, but the moodiness and uneasiness were too much to deal with. And it wasn't as if he had not been told of the risk. He had seen the pictures, including those of Bill Tuttle, an 11-year Major League outfielder whose jaw and face have been ravaged by cancer after a 40-year affair with smokeless tobacco.
Schilling had been face to face with that kind of death before. Barely into his Major League career, while pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, Schilling's father died of lung cancer. "I promised that I wouldn't do to my kids, what my father did to me," Schilling said. "I had to be scared to quit."
Schilling has faced a litany of baseball greats throughout his career, and has battled his way back from shoulder injuries. Yet, despite the challenges that baseball has placed in his path, kicking his smokeless tobacco habit "was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," he said.
Unlike his first attempt, Schilling realized two things: he couldn't quit cold turkey; and the cravings, albeit diminished over time, would always be with him.
Schilling depended on a nicotine patch for three weeks to slowly wean him off its effects. While the patch made it easier to deny his craving for a dip, they were strongest during those first three weeks. "I was very moody and just kept getting these urges," Schilling said.
Desire is still there
Now past the most difficult period, the desire for a dip is still with him. "It's not as tough as it was," he said. "I've beaten it. I can say that now. I may want to do it, but I won't. I realized that beating this doesn't mean I'm never going to want to do it. I just know that I can't."
Schilling is an uncomfortable role model. While he knows how easily teenagers can be influenced by the actions of successful athletes, he doesn't want the job of anti-smokeless tobacco celebrity spokesman. But he has allowed his name and face to be used as a public example of what lies ahead for young people who take up smokeless tobacco, and he wants people to know how difficult it is to stop once you start.
"I chose to dip, but I didn't choose the addiction," Schilling said. "I look back now and see that all I got from 15 years of dipping was no taste in my mouth, bad breath and bleeding gums.
"If a kid says he wants to start dipping, my only question is 'why?' Look at pictures of guys with half a jaw or bloody mouths. That would have made me stop before I got started."