Ex-Phillies Keep Getting Brain Cancer. Is There A Connection?

The Inquirer today takes on a story that until now had existed more in the realm of quiet conspiracy theorizing: The paper notes that ex-Phillies Tug McGraw, John Vukovich, Johnny Oates, and Darren Daulton all played at the old, terrible, crappy Veterans Stadium—and that all four subsequently developed brain cancer.

The rate of brain cancers in team members from that era appears to be about three times the rate in the adult male population, according to an Inquirer analysis that was reviewed by a University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist. And that elevated rate of brain cancer is statistically significant, though the analysis had certain limitations and the pattern easily could be due to chance, said Penn’s Timothy R. Rebbeck.

“These figures suggest that there’s an elevated risk of brain cancers in the baseball players compared to the general population,” said Rebbeck, a professor of epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “You can’t rule out the possibility that it’s random bad luck.”

The team did not respond to requests for comment.

Another possibility: Steroids, though Daulton is the only one of the four players who was really active in or around the so-called Steroid Era. And if Veterans Stadium is mixed up in all of this, wouldn’t we see similar illnesses among Philadelphia Eagles’ players? (Maybe not: The Phillies played roughly 80 games a year on that awful old turf; the Eagles just a tenth that number.)

The Inquirer notes that two other MLB teams have seen higher-than-expected rates of brain cancer during their franchise histories, and that makes sense: There are 30 teams overall—some will have higher-than-average rates of all kinds of stuff, others well below, and lots of teams will be clustered around the middle. There may be a baseball-related reason all these men have contracted brain cancer (and, let’s face it, the Phils haven’t really been historically known for their clean living) but the evidence so far seems thin.