Makers of smokeless tobacco can no longer buy advertising on television due to a ban enacted in 1986. Luckily for them, they don’t need to pay for advertising. Turn on any Major League Baseball game involving any teams, anywhere, any time, and you’ll witness countless endorsements of chewing tobacco from the best celebrity endorsers money can’t buy.

Makers of smokeless tobacco can no longer buy advertising on television due to a ban enacted in 1986.

Luckily for them, they don’t need to pay for advertising. Turn on any Major League Baseball game involving any teams, anywhere, any time, and you’ll witness countless endorsements of chewing tobacco from the best celebrity endorsers money can’t buy.

Though banned from the minor leagues since 1993, spit tobacco is still a big part of major league culture. Its signature protrusions — the round can in a player’s back pocket, the Popeye-like distended cheek full of leafy chew or the bulging lip stuffed with snuff — and attendant artful spitting are part of virtually every baseball broadcast.

For years, we have wondered how a league that so carefully guards its image (in 2007, Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers was fined $1,000 for having his back pocket untucked) looks the other way as so many of its players provide tacit sponsorship of a product as addictive and dangerous as chewing tobacco.

We’re glad to see this week that we have not been alone. Before the start of this week’s World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate colleagues Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter urging the Major League Baseball Players Association to agree to ban tobacco in the dugout, on the field and in the locker room. They asked the players union to take up the issue when it negotiates its new collective bargaining agreement in December.

“This would send a strong message to young baseball fans, who look toward the players as role models, that tobacco use is not essential to the sport of baseball,” the senators wrote.

Before we continue, let’s note here what this letter is not. It is not a threat to revoke baseball’s antitrust exemption if it does not comply. It is not a subpoena to appear before a congressional tribunal, like the infamous steroid hearings of 2005. It’s four influential people stating the obvious.

Both the players union and MLB will benefit from heeding this suggestion.

Want proof of the addictive power of chewing tobacco?

Look no further than this weekend’s World Series games. When Rangers first baseman and 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton comes to the plate, note the snuff can in his back pocket.

On June 1, Hamilton announced on the official Rangers website that he was giving up tobacco for religious reasons. He’s still chewing, however. This is a player whose career was nearly destroyed before it started by drug and alcohol addiction. He famously overcame those problems, yet hasn’t been able to kick nicotine.

Players and owners alike should act to make sure they’re not encouraging future tobacco addicts by getting this stuff off the field and out of the dugout.

State Journal-Register