Before Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale fires the first pitch of the MLB All-Star Game as the American League starter, he credited Tony Gwynn, the hosting San Diego Padres' greatest player, for saving his life.
"To say that he saved my life, I don't think it's an understatement," Sale said.
During a press conference on Monday, the 6'6" lefty said that he chewed tobacco for seven years until Gwynn passed away from salivary gland cancer at the age of 54 in June 2014.
"He actually made a very big impact in my life. I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away," Sale said. "I remember seeing that, and just being so shocked. He was a larger-than-life person. He was an inspiration to the game for many, many people for a lot of different reasons. But I quit that day, and I haven't touched it since.
"In a sense, I owe him a huge thank you for not only myself but for my family, and, you know, hopefully I can maybe sway somebody in the right direction as well like he did for me."
Though his doctors couldn't confirm that chewing tobacco is what led to his illness, he believed it was to blame. In May, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against tobacoo companies.
When Gwynn passed, Stephen Strasburg, who played for Tony Gwynn while the Hall of Famer managed the San Diego State baseball team, swore off tobacco as well, calling it "a disgusting habit."
This season Strasburg was voted to his second All-Star team, but won't pitch so as to preserve his arm as the Washington Nationals, first in the NL East by six games, eye the playoffs.
After Gwynn's tutelage at San Diego State, Strasburg was the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
He described his former manager as not just "one of the greatest hitters of all time," but "one of the greatest people of all time," too.
"I grew up a huge Tony Gwynn fan being here," Strasburg continued. "Playing for him, I got a chance to develop that relationship with him. I learned a lot, how to be not only the best baseball player, to be a real pro, but also to be, hopefully, a good human being."