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A cancer cluster for players from Veteran’s Stadium?

Jul 18, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT

Darren Daulton Getty Getty Images

The sad news of Darren Daulton’s brain cancer diagnosis inspired the Philadelphia Inquirer to conduct a research project — reviewed by a University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist — into incidents of brain cancer among Phillies players and coaches who spent time in Veteran’s Stadium. The results suggest an elevated risk of brain cancer among those who plied their trade at the Vet, with Daulton, Tug McGraw, John Vukovich and Johnny Oates all being stricken.

That’s just four, but as the Inquirer’s story explains, it is a rate 3.1 times higher than in the general population.  The story and the epidemiologist note that, obviously, we’re dealing with small sample sizes and the results could be a matter of chance, but it is both an interesting and potentially worrisome statistical observation.

And not necessarily a new observation. You may recall that, two years ago, friend of HBT and former Royals pitcher Bob Tufts raised this question regarding players from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Tufts himself is a cancer survivor and several other Royals including Paul Splittoroff, Dick Howser and Dan Quisenberry died from various forms of cancer after spending time in K.C.

At the time, Tufts — while acknowledging that this is anecdotal information, not anything like a scientific study — suggested that the MLBPA and Major League Baseball study cancer rates and types among former major leaguers. While the Inquirer study itself isn’t more than a statistical observation itself, it’s not a bad suggestion that someone do something more.

  1. makeham98 - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    Including Johnny Oates is a stretch, his time with the team was brief. Including the Royals ther may be a common thread of artificial turf. Didn’t the NY Giants have three former players also die from cancer?

    • downwithespn - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:07 AM

      I once heard a radio pundit–Max Kellerman, to be precise–argue that boxing decreases one’s lifespan. He then used Rocky Marciano as an example of this phenomenon.

      Now, it may indeed be true that boxing decreases longevity. And it may be true that Marciano died pretty young. However, I don’t think you can use point #2 to support point #1 since he died, you know, in a plane crash.

      • badintent - Jul 19, 2013 at 2:22 AM

        I read a story that made a very convincing case that Rocky got the airplane engine seize up job thanks to orgies with many other men’s wifes.Seems one guy in particular took exception to Rocky and his gofers having their way with a box of dildos, vibrators, etc.After Rocky would do a meet and greet , he would give out his hotel room number to a number of married women and PARTY LIKE A ROCK STAR. Only Real rock star at the time was Elvis.

  2. giantssb42champs - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    Cause could be the radon from the concrete used in the stadiums’ construction.

    • xmatt0926x - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      I thought I read that the cause was suspected to be some type of chemical used in astroturf that became dangerous when exposed to extreme heat during the summer months.

  3. louhudson23 - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Certainly enough information to warrant further research…..

    • heyblueyoustink - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:58 AM

      Except the the Vet has long since been demolished so I wonder just how much empirical evidence they could exhume.

      I’d be curious, personally, since much of my childhood was spent at the Vet.

      • louhudson23 - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:20 PM

        Saw the Phils play the Dodgers in 1976 there….I remember the late Glenn Burke making a sweet running catch below us in CF and sitting in LF the next day and seeing just how damn big Luzinski really was. TV did not do the man justice…..That’s my Vet story….

  4. Tim OShenko - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Why limit the search to just players? If there is a correlation to be found, it would also be worth checking up on any groundskeepers, vendors, and security personnel that worked at Veteran’s. Those folks would have spent at least as much time at the stadium as the players, and would theoretically be placed in as high a risk.

    • natslady - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      Excellent point.

    • biasedhomer - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:51 PM

      Could even extend it to the Eagles players and personnel.

    • bravojawja - Jul 18, 2013 at 1:17 PM

      Their risk is probably higher when you take the Eagles into account. Has anybody contacted Judge Seamus?

    • badintent - Jul 19, 2013 at 2:26 AM

      Finally , a blogger on HBT with a high IQ. Well played sir. You deserve your own column.Are you a professional medical scientist ? Or an insurance actuary.?

  5. andreweac - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    This screams sample size issues. I doubt there is any causation.

  6. mybrunoblog - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Cancer is a truly heartbreaking disease that has touched us all. That said, the cancer cluster idea is generally regarded as a myth. I’ve never seen or read anything about conclusive evidence of a cluster. When things happen we always want definitive answers so people invent things like “clusters”. There just isn’t enough evidence to prove they exist.

  7. Jonny 5 - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Beyond the fact that small sample size makes the data almost irrelevant….

    All 4 Phillies were stricken with glioblastoma which is telling me it may be more than just a coincidence or statistical anomaly we’re seeing here.

    • heyblueyoustink - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:21 AM

      How much time did you spend at the Vet? Just curious. I mean obviously the players spent much more time than any fan possibly could. But it makes it something to consider, eh?

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM

        Not very much time at all actually. I was born to a motor head who had little interest in sports that were powered by anything less than a supercharged engine. I have logged most of my time watching the Phills in the vet sitting in front of a console TV… As an adult, I go all the time, and make sure I bring the boy too.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:44 AM

        I practically grew up at the Vet in the cheap seats in the summer. So when I see a story like this, I don’t get all paranoid, but I do wonder a little bit if this doesn’t warrant just a bit of investigation.

  8. summeroftony - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    Dont forget that Kruk had testicular cancer.

    • greymares - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      yes but some might say that WAS where his brain was located. lol.

  9. robmoore - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Do any of these cancers have sun exposure as a component? With as much time as they spend outdoors, I could easily imagine skin cancer being a higher incidence, but that doesn’t seem to be one of the ones mentioned.

    • gothapotamus90210 - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      Dutch had a melanoma the size of a quarter removed from his chest in his late 20s or early 30s, he mentioned it on his radio show.

  10. Glenn - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Statistically speaking you will have clusters if you examine cancer incidences, or anything else for that matter. This has absolutely nothing to do with causation in and of itself.

    • Glenn - Jul 19, 2013 at 2:14 AM

      Thumbs down for science and statistics? Would alchemy or magic be more satisfying?

  11. yahmule - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    The primary refutation of cancer clusters comes from the CDC. Acknowledgement by the federal government of the existence of cancer clusters would have provided litigants like the downwinders from St George, Utah with blank checks in a court of law.

    • paperlions - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:40 PM

      There are 1000s of epidemiologists around the world that study outbreaks and “clusters” that have no ties to any governmental agency. The CDC is most certainly NOT the primary “refuter” of cancer clusters because there is no such thing as pretty much every epidemiological study fails to find anything more than random variation.

      Cancer Cluster are the Clutch Hitter of the epidemiological world. Yes, clusters of people with cancer exist, just like clutch hits exist, but there has been a complete inability to identify them as anything more than normal random variation with no ability whatsoever to link cause to effect.

  12. jimmywho14 - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    Did they also check into Eagles players. They might not of spent as much time there as Phillies players, but they still logged a lot of time in there.

  13. thehawg - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Gary Carter past away due to brain cancer, did these players chew tobacco ?

  14. spudchukar - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Good Luck trying to find a significant correlation. Earlier this summer I slogged through a brilliantly written book called “Tom’s River.” It was an examination of the chemical infiltration of the water and air in the New Jersey town. To date there have been 2 places in America that have actually received favorable litigation. 2.

    What the book illustrates is the next to impossibility of establishing correlation between clusters of cancer and a polluting industry. It is a sad state of affairs, but that is the reality.

  15. phillyphreak - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    I’m more of a creepy lurker nowadays than a regular poster but this “research” made my brain explode. Correlation does not prove causation and as the “research article” points out, the amount of assumptions made is incredible. To put it in perspective, it never would have survived peer review.

    Other points on this comment thread are notable: analysis of Eagles players, stadium crew (divided into concession people, ushers, etc), visiting players who played often at the Vet (divisional opponents), extended season ticket holders etc.The first thing that needs to be set is an exposure time, for example, how many games constitutes significant exposure.

    This also completely ignores other risk factors for cancers: sun exposure, smoking, tobacco, alcohol intake, and genetics.

    All of this is not to say that there is not the possibility that this observation is true. But it is these kinds of pieces that really demonstrate how not to write about science and medicine.

    • phillyphreak - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      “This also completely ignores other risk factors for cancers: sun exposure, smoking, tobacco, alcohol intake, and genetics.

      – Risks for brain cancers are not usually sun and smoking. Alcohol has been found to contribute as has genetics particularly in younger populations. Viruses too.

  16. rjmarrella - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    there was a lot of speculation of such an issue shortly after Vuk got sick… I wonder if this is something people have known about….

  17. jrod2go - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    Circumstantial evidence strikes again. Cancer is the #2 cause of death. 1 in every 4, of any of us, will die of cancer. This just in….25% of people who drive cars are dying of cancer and so are 25% of people who use the Internet. It’s time to put these two killers to rest! Please..how ridiculous.

    Until there is some real evidence, or at least the announcement of an investigation, why even put out stories like this?

  18. bankboy2012 - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    The one thing I remember about that artificial turf way back when was how hot it got during the summer, it was basically carpeted asphalt. It’s very possible that some sort of chemical breakdown due to the heat was occurring. Being that close to the field certainly meant inhaling decent amounts of whatever was coming off that turf.

    • louhudson23 - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      Nope. Positively Impossible. Small sample size and the litigation averse CDC have determined there is no such possibility of causation. Clearly, the basic study should not have been done.No preliminary conclusions should have been drawn. No need for further study should have been suggested. Article should not have been written. Comments(other than those pointing out the small sample size and the fallacy of cancer cluster theories,of course) should not have been posted.

  19. xmatt0926x - Jul 18, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    I mentioned it already in response to another post, but I’m not sure people are getting the full story on what they suspect may be the cause. Apparently some people feel it has something to do with the turf used in stadiums like the Vet. Something about a chemical used that may become dangerous when extreme heat is involved during the summer playing months.

    • Reflex - Jul 18, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      Yes, people often come up with pet theories to explain things. But that does not make them true.

  20. 11thstreetmafia - Jul 18, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    Perhaps they all got their coke from the same guy.

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