Baseball fans revisit Veterans Stadium theory after David West becomes latest Phillies player to die from brain cancer
Baseball fans think that Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Philadelphia Phillies, caused brain cancer in several players
Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive and deadliest forms of cancer.
According to the National Brain Tumor Society, the two-year survival rate is 30% and the five-year survival rate is only 6.8%. Most people succumb to the aggressive disease within 12-18 months. It’s a form of cancer that has been diagnosed for a century, with little headway on any kind of treatment.
More than 10,000 people will die of glioblastoma each year, and since 2003, that number includes six former Philadelphia Phillies.
Ken Brett was the first, in 2003. The next year, it was Tug McGraw and Johnny Oates. In 2007, John Vukovich. In 2017, Darren Daulton, who lived longer than most after being diagnosed in 2013. This weekend, David West became the sixth, barely one year after Daulton’s foundation wished him well in his fight against the disease.
None lived to be 60 years old.
According to USA Today, “3.14 percent of the Phillies’ 159 players from 1973 (Brett’s only year on the team) to 1983 (Daulton’s first season with the club) were diagnosed with brain cancer.” That percentage did not include West, who was diagnosed later.
Several other former MLB players from the same era also passed away from brain cancer: Gary Carter, Bobby Murcer, and Dan Quisenberry, as well as manager Dick Howser.
The mounting number of deaths has been a topic of conversation among former ballplayers and looks less like a coincidence with every diagnosis. 1980 World Series champion pitcher Dickie Noles is one of many who’s been saying it’s not a coincidence for years:
"“Once it happened to Tug, we were all in shock. Then once it happened to Vuk (Vukovich), the other ballplayers kind of had the feeling like, ‘Wow.’ Then when it happened to Daulton, every ballplayer I’ve seen talked about it.“There seems to be some correlation with this and baseball. What was the Vet built on? Was it something in the building? The asbestos?”"
Larry Bowa, who has been with the Phillies for over three decades as a player, coach, manager, and with the front office, is also suspicious about their former ballpark:
"“I know there were a lot of pipes that were exposed when we played there and we had AstroTurf.I’m not trying to blame anybody. It’s just sort of strange that that can happen to one team playing at the Vet.”"
Maybe it wasn’t the Vet being built on a marsh, but the AstroTurf. The Kansas City Royals also used AstroTurf from 1973-94, before switching to real grass. Quisenberry spent the bulk of his career with them and was teammates with Brett, who played for the Royals at the end of his career. Howser was their manager.
Bowa has gone on the record several times over the years saying that he’s concerned and wishes someone would investigate, so the hundreds of other players who spent time at the Vet would have some clarity.
Unfortunately, the Vet was demolished in March 2004, and it’s hard to trace something back to a place that no longer exists. But while scientists spent years saying there was no official link between chemicals in AstroTurf and cancer, new lawsuits and law changes suggest otherwise. A report from January of this year noted that California’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit alleging that artificial turf manufacturers have not warned customers about “potentially dangerous toxins” in their products. Last summer, the University of Amsterdam released findings that the rubber granules release chemicals that can be harmful to humans and animals. As a result, the European Commission imposed stricter limits on eight compounds found in the material.
Fans think the Vet is to blame. When news broke of West’s passing, one tweeted, “At some point, it stops being a coincidence.” Another wrote, “no doubt in my mind The Vet was a cancer cluster.” Others have pointed out that John Kruk and Curt Schilling also developed cancer after playing at the Vet, though both survived.
Regardless of whether something at the Vet caused cancer or it’s simply a horrible coincidence, it’s a tragedy.