Smoke and Furor

Go ahead, NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds. Smoke that stogie!

by Scott Daniel

I don’t have double standards.  I have paradoxes.

My approach to smoking is a prime example. Cigarettes have no redeeming value.  They are dirty, disgusting, and deadly. Foul nicotine-laced addiction sticks.  No cigarette will ever approach my lips.  Cigars, on the other hand…cigars are classy. Dignified.  They are a vice of wealth and status.  More than that, they are trophies.  No victory – college graduation, wedding, child-birth, or championship – is complete without the triumphant blaze of a hand-rolled Dominican.*

*Except in the State of Ohio.

Last Tuesday, the hard luck Cincinnati Reds clinched their first National League Central Division title in 15 years.  The story of their return to competitiveness in 2010 has been largely lost amid the year-long seesaw between the Yankees and Rays and the meteoric late-season ascension of the Phillies to the best record in the majors.  For the amateur baseball historian, though, it is a cause for celebration.  Modern professional baseball was born on the banks of the Ohio River.  The Big Red Machine of Johnny Bench and Pete Rose dominated the mid-70s.  The likes of Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo shocked the world by sweeping the indomitable Oakland A’s in the 1990 World Series.

In the two decades that followed, the Red Legs‘ only moments of self-actualization came in the form of one playoff appearance, four winning seasons, Tom Browning’s rooftop cameo at Wrigleyville, and the cathartic ouster of Marge Schott, the team’s miserly owner and barely closeted Nazi.

Which is why reports that the Cincinnati Health Department launched an investigation into the stogie-smoking of Reds players and personnel in the aftermath of their (walk off!) win over the Houston Astros are so downright galling.  Evidently, five clandestine members of the Cosmic Killjoy Association spotted the Reds’ club house celebration on TV, then promptly adjusted the sticks they sit on and notified the proper authorities.

You see, in Ohio, you can’t smoke in the workplace.  Period.  This is courtesy of the Smoke Free Workplace Act, approved by 2.2 million Ohio voters in 2006.  The commendable purpose of the act is to improve public health by reducing the effects of second-hand smoke on co-workers.  Duly noted and, in theory, supported.  But apparently, spontaneous outbursts of joy in response to hard-earned conquests are not among the statute’s few carve-out exceptions.  So, yes, technically, those bastard Cincinnati Reds broke the law.

This is where the idea of prosecutorial discretion comes into play.  Technical violations of the letter of the law that either don’t strike at its spirit or otherwise rank high on the list of government priorities can and should be dismissed.  It’s hard to imagine that Ohio voters passed the Smoke Free Workplace Act in order to suppress locker room celebrations; I’m confident that a fair share of those who supported it themselves dug into the humidor to toast their beloved Reds at home.  The difference between a private house and the club house is really nothing more than semantics.

This brings me back to my paradox.  I will smoke the occasional Cohiba, but won’t even touch a Camel.  The difference between the two, in terms of negative impact on my health, is marginal – even negligible.  It comes, for me, down to a question of personal choice.  I choose to smoke cigars where the moment calls for it: my college graduation, bachelor parties, a rare fantasy football win, and meeting Tim Russert after my contracts final in law school.

As long as I’m not hurting anybody else, and I’m doing it in an essentially private setting, it is not the responsibility of any moralizing crusader to protect me from myself.  Certainly not the type of ex-hall monitor that is sexually aroused by the PATRIOT Act.

So as the baseball postseason approaches, I think all baseball fans should toast the Cincinnati Reds in the name of victory and freedom.

And smoke ’em if you got ’em.


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