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Saturday, February 10, 2018

PopSci: No one told Babe Ruth he had cancer, but his death changed the way we fight it

For half a century, doctors believed that Ruth had cancer in his larynx, which grows from the voice box in the throat. The hoarse speech, as well as Ruth’s prolific consumption of cigarettes and alcohol, supported this theory. But by evaluating Ruth’s private autopsy reports, Bikhazi showed that Ruth actually had nasopharyngeal cancer, a rare illness that starts behind the nose. More than 70 years after his death, the distinction might seem minor, but the takeaway is staggering: Ruth, through sheer dumb luck, got almost exactly the right treatment. Laryngeal cancer typically requires radiation and surgery (including total removal of the voicebox), but nasopharyngeal cancer is still tackled with chemo-beamo today. “If Ruth had presented today with advanced-stage nasopharyngeal cancer as he had in 1946,” Bikhazi wrote, “he would have had a favorable chance of long-term survival.”

The obvious modern-day comp, but with a far happier ending: Magic Johnson.

Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: February 10, 2018 at 11:03 PM | 46 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: babe ruth

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   1. BDC Posted: February 11, 2018 at 10:58 AM (#5623149)
One weird implication of this story is that the ending of The Babe Ruth Story may be somewhat realistic (William Bendix as the Babe heroically consents to experimental treatments). I can't remember whether "cancer" is mentioned in that film – probably not, as TFA suggests, because it was something of a taboo word.
   2. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 11, 2018 at 11:21 AM (#5623156)
I’d never even heard before today that Ruth had cancer.
   3. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 11, 2018 at 12:57 PM (#5623195)
I thought he died of a hot dog overdose.
   4. The Yankee Clapper Posted: February 11, 2018 at 01:37 PM (#5623207)
I’d never even heard before today that Ruth had cancer.

Really? The Babe's gravelly-voiced final appearance at The House He Built is part of his lore.

   5. Sunday silence Posted: February 11, 2018 at 01:42 PM (#5623210)
Its interesting to think what it would have been like to have him around. George Burns was born the same year 1895, IIRC.
   6. Greg Pope Posted: February 11, 2018 at 03:10 PM (#5623240)
I’d never even heard before today that Ruth had cancer.

Me, either.
   7. dlf Posted: February 11, 2018 at 03:26 PM (#5623247)
Was it Montville who wrote the (pretty good) Ruth bio that came out a few years ago, "Big Bam"? It discussed his throat / mouth cancer, but I'm not sure how specific it was.
   8. McCoy Posted: February 11, 2018 at 03:44 PM (#5623255)
No one's ever told me I had cancer either.
   9. wjones Posted: February 11, 2018 at 04:16 PM (#5623270)
Um, I am going to assume you guys know how Lou Gehrig died, right?
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: February 11, 2018 at 04:35 PM (#5623277)

Um, I am going to assume you guys know how Lou Gehrig died, right?


From the sage Dennis Leary.

Babe:I'm up here in Heaven, Lou Gehrig is up Here with me
God love Lou Gehrig, Jesus Christ, poor Lou Gehrig
Died of Lou Gehrig's disease
How the Hell did he not see that coming?

We used to tell him, Lou, there's a disease
With your name all over it, pal!
There ain't no Babe Ruth disease, I'll tell you that much right now
Have a hot dog and a Hummer, go ahead, it's on me"

I don't know, personally, I think Billy Martin said it best when he said
"Hey! I can drive!",



Read more: Dennis Leary - Smoke Lyrics | MetroLyrics
   11. stig-tossled,hornswoggled gef the talking mongoose Posted: February 11, 2018 at 05:35 PM (#5623291)
I’d never even heard before today that Ruth had cancer.

Me, either.


At 53, it should be pretty much a given, I guess. Well, that or a heart attack. Or an STD, given his lifestyle.

Could conceivably have been all 3.
   12. ajnrules Posted: February 11, 2018 at 07:31 PM (#5623310)
I thought that Tony Gwynn was young when he died of another head and neck cancer almost four years ago. However, at 54 he actually lived a year longer than Ruth.
   13. AndrewJ Posted: February 11, 2018 at 08:42 PM (#5623326)
I'll be 50 in a few weeks, and it's bizarre to contemplate that Lou Gehrig played his last game before turning 36. Everybody looked middle-aged in the 1930s-40s. Even the Little Rascals.
   14. Greg Pope Posted: February 11, 2018 at 09:11 PM (#5623331)
At 53, it should be pretty much a given, I guess. Well, that or a heart attack. Or an STD, given his lifestyle.

Could conceivably have been all 3.


Well, right. I always assumed heart attack or something similar.
   15. Zach Posted: February 12, 2018 at 01:58 PM (#5623632)
I thought the headline was an oversell, but the story actually lives up to it.

It's funny to think of Babe Ruth being alive in the age of chemotherapy. They just seem like different eras.
   16. Zach Posted: February 12, 2018 at 02:03 PM (#5623635)
He looks incredibly frail in his last appearance at Yankee Stadium. It's hard to believe he was only 53.
   17. Booey Posted: February 12, 2018 at 02:14 PM (#5623645)
Everybody looked middle-aged in the 1930s-40s.


Yep. And they looked even older a decade or two earlier. Look at pics of Honus Wagner or Eddie Collins. They could pass for 60 or even 70 towards the end of their careers (by today's standards).
   18. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: February 12, 2018 at 03:31 PM (#5623733)
I'll be 50 in a few weeks, and it's bizarre to contemplate that Lou Gehrig played his last game before turning 36. Everybody looked middle-aged in the 1930s-40s. Even the Little Rascals.


Imagine my surprise when, a couple of years ago, I discovered that the Polo Grounds didn't only exist in black & white...
   19. The usual palaver and twaddle (Met Fan Charlie) Posted: February 12, 2018 at 03:34 PM (#5623735)
Well, right. I always assumed heart attack or something similar.


In Robert Creamer's Babe: the Legend Comes to Life, there's a picture of Ruth in a bathrobe (kimono?) looking all shriveled and yellow. That said "cancer" to me, even as a 9-year-old in 1974.
   20. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: February 12, 2018 at 03:40 PM (#5623740)
I never knew how he died before. You always hear about his unhealthy lifestyle so I guess I thought it was something to do with alcoholism or heart problems.

Um, I am going to assume you guys know how Lou Gehrig died, right?


Babe Ruth's Disease?
   21. Swoboda is freedom Posted: February 12, 2018 at 04:47 PM (#5623796)
Ruth had presented today with advanced-stage nasopharyngeal cancer as he had in 1946,” Bikhazi wrote, “he would have had a favorable chance of long-term survival.”

With his lifestyle, I kind of doubt long term survival.
   22. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: February 12, 2018 at 05:07 PM (#5623808)
Chalk me up as someone who didn't know he died of cancer either. Didn't know he didn't; never really thought about it before.
   23. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 12, 2018 at 05:14 PM (#5623818)
I guess everybody assumed his guttural farewell speech was also an speaking audition for the role of Cookie Monster.
   24. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 12, 2018 at 05:50 PM (#5623844)
Eddie Collins in 1925. He doesn't look a day over 40.
   25. Booey Posted: February 12, 2018 at 06:22 PM (#5623859)
Try finding a picture of Wagner where he DOESN'T look at least 50.
   26. John DiFool2 Posted: February 12, 2018 at 08:31 PM (#5623922)
Third hit on Google is him as a teen or in his early 20's (and looks very babyish).
   27. Batman Posted: February 12, 2018 at 10:21 PM (#5623965)
Pete Alexander pitched well into his 70s.
   28. Hank Gillette Posted: February 12, 2018 at 11:05 PM (#5623980)
One of the possible risk factors for nasopharyngeal cancer is consuming foods high in nitrates and nitrites. So, it’s a stretch, but it might have been the hot dogs that killed him.
   29. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 13, 2018 at 01:05 AM (#5624004)

Its interesting to think what it would have been like to have him around. George Burns was born the same year 1895, IIRC.


I have a hard time picturing Babe Ruth as God.
   30. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 13, 2018 at 10:43 AM (#5624141)
Here's Ol' Pete Alexander, and I do mean Ol'.
   31. Booey Posted: February 13, 2018 at 10:57 AM (#5624151)
#30 - What year is that pic from?
   32. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 13, 2018 at 11:02 AM (#5624156)
There's a similar shot of him in a Cardinals uniform from 1929, so I'm assuming it's around then. Alex would have been 42. He never coached for the Cardinals, so it's not from after his playing career.
   33. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 13, 2018 at 12:14 PM (#5624231)
Alex would have been 42.

I'm 41. That's terrifying.
   34. McCoy Posted: February 13, 2018 at 12:49 PM (#5624267)
The sun is a helluva thing. Sun damage to half a face. Well, that and alcohol and tobacco.
   35. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 13, 2018 at 01:23 PM (#5624298)
We should probably give Alexander some war credit in the mix as well.
   36. Batman Posted: February 13, 2018 at 02:33 PM (#5624364)
Tris Speaker was the youngest one in this picture. It's apparently from 1928, when he was 40. Cobb and Collins were 41.
   37. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: February 13, 2018 at 02:39 PM (#5624372)
Alcohol for sure. The biography of Pete Alexander is one of the most depressing baseball autobiographies available.
   38. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 13, 2018 at 02:55 PM (#5624397)
Tris Speaker was the youngest one in this picture. It's apparently from 1928, when he was 40. Cobb and Collins were 41.

Seriously, did everyone come out of the womb at age 25 in those days?
   39. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 13, 2018 at 04:31 PM (#5624526)
Addie Joss. That's probably unfair, since he was in very poor health, but Joss threw his last pitch at age 30, so he's no older than that.
   40. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 13, 2018 at 04:57 PM (#5624541)
Um, I am going to assume you guys know how Lou Gehrig died, right?

If your answer doesn't start with "Deep State," you are nothing but a mindless pawn.
   41. Batman Posted: February 13, 2018 at 09:33 PM (#5624650)
More recently, there was Charlie Hough with the Marlins.
   42. Greg K Posted: February 14, 2018 at 08:05 AM (#5624728)
A famous baseball player who's name I can't remember right now, had Lou Gehrig's disease, and he didn't let it slow him down!
   43. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: February 14, 2018 at 08:41 AM (#5624739)
More recently, there was Charlie Hough with the Marlins.


I've never felt more justified in rooting for Bane.
   44. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: February 14, 2018 at 08:45 AM (#5624741)
Chalk me up as someone who didn't know he died of cancer either. Didn't know he didn't; never really thought about it before.


That surprises me because I thought it was common knowledge.

In graduate school my neuropathology professor was a baseball fan (Cardinals) and we got to talking about old-timey ball during a session at the double-headed microscope. He said that Babe Ruth's radiation therapy was conducted by bringing him into a room with a radiation source embedded in a lead box built into the floor, and a radiation physicist would enter the room gowned in lead aprons and remove a panel, creating a "beam" of emissions from the floor that Ruth would lay his throat over.
   45. Rally Posted: February 14, 2018 at 08:54 AM (#5624747)
Tris Speaker was the youngest one in this picture. It's apparently from 1928, when he was 40. Cobb and Collins were 41.


Since they already looked eligible for social security (if it had been invented at the time), I was curious how long they lasted. Cobb lived to 74, Speaker 70, and Collins 63.
   46. Batman Posted: February 14, 2018 at 11:04 AM (#5624848)
Addie Joss. That's probably unfair, since he was in very poor health, but Joss threw his last pitch at age 30, so he's no older than that.
He "threw his last pitch" overall two days after his 31st birthday, but he almost looked like a kid in his Wikipedia and baseball-reference picture, taken when he was 22.

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