A small sampling of the sterling statistics that earned Tony Gwynn a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.:

His batting average for a 1982-2001 major league career, all with the San Diego Padres, was .338. He's the only player who made his big-league debut after 1940 with an average that high.

A master of the long-lost art of bat control, he struck out only 434 times in 10,232 career big-league plate appearances. The only other man in baseball's 28-member, 3,000-hit club with fewer strikeouts is Paul Waner, who fanned a mere 376 times in 10,766 plate appearances from 1926-1945.

In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Mr. Gwynn hit .394. Though he never hit .400 for a single season (Ted Williams was the last to do that at .406 in 1941), he hit .403 over a 179-game span (longer than a regular season) from July 3, 1993 to May 9, 1995.

But here's another number sadly associated with Mr. Gwynn: 54. That's how old he was when he died Monday in San Diego after a long battle with cancer of the salivary gland.

Widely acclaimed as a friendly, caring man, Mr. Gwynn was the baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater, for the last 12 seasons.

He sounded a familiar warning by attributing his fatal condition to his playing-days habit of putting a dip of snuff (finely ground tobacco) between his right cheek and gum.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, smokeless tobacco contains 28 carcinogens - and is a known cause of oral cancer. Yet it retains a place in our national pastime - at least on the big-league level.

Smokeless tobacco is now banned in high school, college and minor league baseball. And rising awareness of its risks has logically produced a sharp decline in its use.

Yet though Major League Baseball prohibits players from "visible" use of it at ballparks, the players' union has blocked efforts to bar smokeless-tobacco at big-league facilities altogether.

Yes, smokeless tobacco is a legal protect that, unlike cigarettes, poses no second-hand risk to those who don't use it. Still, players, managers and coaches in big-league uniforms shouldn't set such an indisputably hazardous example for Little Leaguers.

Tony Gwynn's premature demise sends this clear signal:

Major League Baseball should throw smokeless tobacco out of the grand old game.