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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tufts: What Is It About Baseball, Kansas City and Cancer?

Bob had brought this up in an earlier thread…

This news hits me pretty hard and very close to home. Paul (Splittoroff) was a teammate in 1982 and 1983 in Kansas City, and I also have been afflicted with cancer. As of now I am doing well in my post-autologous stem cell transplant battle with multiple myeloma thanks to the good doctors at Weill Cornell/New York Presbyterian Hospital.

I immediately thought about many other members of the circa 1980 Royals team that had died due to cancer. Manager Dick Howser died in 1987 from a malignant brain tumor, reliever Dan Quisenberry died in 1989 from a brain tumor, reliever Ken Brett (albeit only in KC from 1980-81) died in 2003 after a prolonged battle with brain cancer. Now Splitt – and me. And Killebrew actually played his last season in the majors in kansas City in 1975 (hat tip to Dag Nabbit on Baseball Think Factory).

...With a cursory on line search, I discovered that there were four other players that were diagnosed with myeloma – Moe Drawbowsky, Mel Stottlemyre, Don Baylor and Vern Ruhle. I expect there to be more, but medical privacy laws do not permit a forensic search or the doctors to discuss their patient’s medical history. Nevertheless, just these men (and myself) show that baseball players are overrepresented among those who get this bone marrow cancer.

Perhaps it is time for Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association – with co-operation from the retired players who are members of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association – to launch an extensive study on cancer rates and the types of cancer as it relates to former players?

Repoz Posted: May 19, 2011 at 10:25 AM | 46 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, royals

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   1. ursus arctos Posted: May 19, 2011 at 11:06 AM (#3832298)
Bob is right, and an epidemiological study should be done.

The likely outcome is that it will be an unfortunate coincidence, but there have been cases in which serious illnesses have been linked to environmental factors, for example the Italian studies that have linked the abnormally high incidence of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) among Serie A players of the the 80s to the use of certain pesticides.
   2. ChuckO Posted: May 19, 2011 at 11:59 AM (#3832303)
What has been diagnosed as ALS, especially among athletes, may in fact be a neurodegenerative condition caused by too many concussions. That may well have been the case with Gehrig himself, who suffered from a number of serious concussions. Here's a link.

http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20100817/concussions-linked-to-condition-similar-to-als
   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 12:58 PM (#3832322)
Nevertheless, just these men (and myself) show that baseball players are overrepresented among those who get this bone marrow cancer.


Is this true? How many ballplayers are there and what percentage of the general population gets bone marrow cancer?

Also, tobacco-use has been linked with throat cancer, esophogeal cancer and mylemoa, so perhaps it should not be too big a surprise even if baseball players suffer from these awful maladies at a slightly higher rate.

I think we see a couple high profile cancer cases and assume there must be some sort of cluster, when the sample size is extremely small. If the cancer victims were Onix Concpecion, Mark Littell and Ross Jones, I'm not sure anyone would even make the KC connection.
   4. depletion Posted: May 19, 2011 at 01:33 PM (#3832333)
Airline miles.
You get a higher dose of radiation flying in a plane. KC may travel more hours due to its location.
   5. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: May 19, 2011 at 01:45 PM (#3832346)
reliever Dan Quisenberry died in 1989 from a brain tumor


Wow, I did not know that.
   6. Cabbage Posted: May 19, 2011 at 01:54 PM (#3832353)
Airline miles.
You get a higher dose of radiation flying in a plane. KC may travel more hours due to its location


Unlikely. Ballplayers dont get anywhere near the airtime of pilots and cabin staff. You don't see abnormally high levels of cancer in those groups.
   7. just plain joe Posted: May 19, 2011 at 01:55 PM (#3832355)
KC may travel more hours due to its location.


I wouldn't know without looking at the schedules but in theory KC should travel less due to being located more or less in the central part of the country. The teams on either coast are the ones that should travel more; it is a lot farther for Boston or New York to go to Seattle than for Kansas City to make that same trip. In any event there are plenty of non-athletes who fly more frequently than MLB players, do these people suffer from cancers at a different rate from baseball players? Not being snarky here, genuinely curious.
   8. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 02:21 PM (#3832374)
I wouldn't know without looking at the schedules but in theory KC should travel less due to being located more or less in the central part of the country


Except there are no close teams, so every away series requires some travel. Your logic might be true, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were second to Seattle, which has the double whammy of not being close to anyone and being on one coast. The TX and FL teams may also be high on the travel hours list.
   9. Raskolnikov Posted: May 19, 2011 at 02:32 PM (#3832391)
Wow, I understand people getting very anxious about cancer, but this discussion will cause more anxiety than good.

1. There is radiation that occurs at low levels from air travel, but this is of interest only at an epidemiologic level and not as a "hotspot" of cancers. Basically, it's like comparing a batting avg of .270 and .273. The controversy is whether the effect is negligible or leads to tiny increases in cancer incidence. Has nothing to do with KC.

2. Myeloma and GBMs are pretty far apart in the cancer spectrum. "Cancer" is not a single entity, but rather a set of distinct diseases. Counting them together makes no sense.


I doubt that the KC ballplayer, cancer incidence issue is anything more than a statistical outlier, but that's just a guess.
   10. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: May 19, 2011 at 02:48 PM (#3832408)
I doubt that the KC ballplayer, cancer incidence issue is anything more than a statistical outlier, but that's just a guess.

And just to make an obvious point about Kansas City ballplayers: Harmon Killebrew played in Kansas City for only his last two seasons, in a 22 year career. Has anyone checked the Twin Cities drinking water?
   11. Perry Posted: May 19, 2011 at 03:10 PM (#3832428)
Nevertheless, just these men (and myself) show that baseball players are overrepresented among those who get this bone marrow cancer.


It does no such thing. So-called "cancer clusters" often occur for no reason other than that chance is lumpy.
   12. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: May 19, 2011 at 03:23 PM (#3832437)
Bob is right, and an epidemiological study should be done.

Really? Based on a sample size of 5? If there were an apparant cause that would be one thing, but this seems like an overreaction.
   13. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: May 19, 2011 at 03:24 PM (#3832440)
You don't get cancer by chance, rather by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

I hope no one's questioning the essential thrust of Bob Tufts' point, which is that in a distinct 7 or 8 year period, a lot of men in the same (not densely populated) workplace developed cancer. Tufts, Quiz, K Brett, Howser, Splittoroff, Killebrew -- no, it's not Chernobyl and it could be fate's malevolance, but it's more than enough to warrant further study.

A noticable cluster of ex-New York Football Giants developed cancer in roughly the early 90s; I can't remember many of them, one was Doug Kotar who died young. They studied the workplace and didn't find anything statistically significant, but then again you wouldn't expect them to. If it was easy to link cause and effect, we likely would have cured cancer long ago.
   14. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 03:32 PM (#3832449)

And just to make an obvious point about Kansas City ballplayers: Harmon Killebrew played in Kansas City for only his last two seasons, in a 22 year career. Has anyone checked the Twin Cities drinking water?


Actually just one season. Ken Brett spent only a few months in KC. And Bob barely spent parts of two seasons (26 IP total) in KC.


I hope no one's questioning the essential thrust of Bob Tufts' point, which is that in a distinct 7 or 8 year period, a lot of men in the same (not densely populated) workplace developed cancer. Tufts, Quiz, K Brett, Howser, Splittoroff, Killebrew -- no, it's not Chernobyl and it could be fate's malevolance, but it's more than enough to warrant further study.,


Except they didn't develop cancer in that seven or eight year period - at least that we know about. Splitorff and Killebrew weren't diagnosed til recently - some 30 years after they retired. Brett wasn't diagnosed til well after his career. And like I said, many of them were barely in KC.

Its a bunch of guys that got cancer that just happened to spend part of their career in KC. Its seeing connections in random patterns. If there is a common link I would bet dollars to donuts its tobacco usage.
   15. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: May 19, 2011 at 03:38 PM (#3832455)
Except they didn't develop cancer in that seven or eight year period - at least that we know about.

Not sure what you're getting at with the lag time; no one expects that if you work around a carcinogen today, you'll have cancer tomorrow.

They were in the same, small workplace from '75-'83, and later developed cancer.
   16. Raskolnikov Posted: May 19, 2011 at 03:53 PM (#3832472)
I hope no one's questioning the essential thrust of Bob Tufts' point, which is that in a distinct 7 or 8 year period, a lot of men in the same (not densely populated) workplace developed cancer. Tufts, Quiz, K Brett, Howser, Splittoroff, Killebrew -- no, it's not Chernobyl and it could be fate's malevolance, but it's more than enough to warrant further study.

Yeah, I agree that it warrants studying further. But I'm also worried that it would cause overreactions such as staying away from KC or avoid flying in airplanes, etc.
   17. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:05 PM (#3832483)
They were in the same, small workplace from '75-'83, and later developed cancer.


Only for about 1/4 of the year. Wouldn't the staff that didn't travel with the team and that was in KC year round be more at risk? If anything baseball players are probably less at risk from where they work and live because they are out of kc half the time during the season, plus spring training and any of the off season they are not living in KC.
   18. Raskolnikov Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:21 PM (#3832506)
A more interesting "cluster of potential cancers" controversy is Dunn County, North Dakota and Libby, Montana.

http://www.internalmedicinenews.com/news/oncology-hematology/single-article/mesothelioma-watch-is-erionite-the-new-asbestos/69a869d398.html
   19. slothinator Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:39 PM (#3832526)
reliever Dan Quisenberry died in 1989 from a brain tumor


Wow, I did not know that.


Because it didn't happen. Quiz passed away in 1998; looks like the numbers got flipped.

Struck me as being wrong because I remembered him having a decent 1989 season for the Cards, and the pitching a little bit in 1990 (for the Giants).
   20. cardsfanboy Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:46 PM (#3832536)
Only for about 1/4 of the year. Wouldn't the staff that didn't travel with the team and that was in KC year round be more at risk? If anything baseball players are probably less at risk from where they work and live because they are out of kc half the time during the season, plus spring training and any of the off season they are not living in KC.


Without a study of some sort, how do we know that the staff didn't have a higher than expected cancer rate?
   21. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:49 PM (#3832542)

They were in the same, small workplace from '75-'83, and later developed cancer.


Including Killebrew really throws off the time frame there. The others named - Howser, Quisenberry, Splittorff, Ken Brett, and Bob - were all on the Royals in 1981 and/or 1982.
   22. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:59 PM (#3832551)
Only for about 1/4 of the year. Wouldn't the staff that didn't travel with the team and that was in KC year round be more at risk? If anything baseball players are probably less at risk from where they work and live because they are out of kc half the time during the season, plus spring training and any of the off season they are not living in KC.

Sure. The dugouts and clubhouses are the types of places in which players, coaches and a few staff worked (**); once you branch out from there, there were season ticket holders in the area as much as the players.

(**) Even going back to 1975 through '83, there couldn't have been more than ... what ... two or three hundred people who worked in the Royals players' workplace? Players, coaches, the clubhouse guys, writers, whomever else. Shrinking it to '81/'82, it's probably fewer than a hundred.
   23. ursus arctos Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:00 PM (#3832552)
FPH, I'm not sure it's only five, and the first step would be to figure out just what the incidence is.
   24. Steve Phillips' Hot Cougar (DrStankus) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:01 PM (#3832555)
wikipedia says that Quiz published a book of poetry. Anyone read it?
   25. Bob Tufts Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:05 PM (#3832559)
1989 to 1998 - fixed.

My point regarding myeloma is that I'd like to know how many former players have had this disease, as medical privacy precludes a complete search. I am going to ask the union and the MLBP Alumni Association to get someone to gather the details and do a report on the matter.

It may go nowhere, but....it's always best to try to quanitfy risks. Per CDC 2007 data: 16,776 people in the United States were diagnosed with myeloma, including 9,240 men and 7,536 women. (16776/307,000,000 is 0.0005464. Is this ratio significant when weighed against all players? Is the fact that the CDC says that rates for myeloma "increased significantly by 0.7% per year from 1975 to 2006 among men" relevant?

Something for the number crunchers on this site.
   26. DCW3 Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:08 PM (#3832562)
Mike Lowell and Eli Marrero were high school teammates, and both of them got cancer in their 20s. That always seemed weird to me.
   27. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:14 PM (#3832570)
It does no such thing. So-called "cancer clusters" often occur for no reason other than that chance is lumpy.
Especially given that you're looking for patterns after the fact, which means that it doesn't have to be this disease in this place, but any disease in any place. It could be "cancer" -- of one sort or another -- in KC, or aneurysms in San Diego, or ALS in Yankee Stadium, or whatever.
   28. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:22 PM (#3832577)
wikipedia says that Quiz published a book of poetry. Anyone read it?


I was given a compilation of poems about potatoes, one of which was by Quisenberry. I remember it as not all that great, but that's about it. Digging around, there are some samples from his work here. If I saw them in a midrange literary journal I wouldn't remember them afterwards (except the line about Gene Shalit), but they probably wouldn't be the worst things in there either. That's a lot better than you can say about most athlete's art.
   29. Steve Phillips' Hot Cougar (DrStankus) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:24 PM (#3832583)
That's a lot better than you can say about most athlete's art.


I have heard Omar Vizquel sing...
   30. Bob Evans Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:31 PM (#3832597)
I have heard Omar Vizquel sing...

...and I have seen the Ickey Shuffle.
   31. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: May 19, 2011 at 05:50 PM (#3832614)
I have heard Omar Vizquel sing...

I regret missing the days when it was not unusual for an MLB team to get up a barbershop quartet.
   32. smileyy Posted: May 19, 2011 at 07:33 PM (#3832721)
Perhaps KC's lack of success could be attributed to too much cancer in the clubhouse.
   33. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 08:07 PM (#3832757)
They traded Jose Guillen.
   34. Bob Tufts Posted: May 19, 2011 at 08:46 PM (#3832791)
Vinyl chloride in early astroturf produced by Monsanto? Vinyl chloride is a class A carcinogen.
   35. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 19, 2011 at 08:50 PM (#3832795)
The American Cancer Society says that 1 in 159 people get multiple myeloma.

Baseball Reference says 81 players suited up for the Royals between 1980-1983 including Tufts, Quiz, Splittorf and Brett.

My take on this is small sample size, nothing more but that is an awfully big variance.
   36. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 19, 2011 at 09:12 PM (#3832812)
I suppose MLB could at least look into it.

As for my theory on tobacco usage, there does not appear to be a link between tobacco and myeloma, nor brain cancer, although it is linked to esophogeal and throat cancer.

Of the four players you mention with myeloma – Moe Drawbowsky, Mel Stottlemyre, Don Baylor and Vern Ruhle – Ruhle spent seven years playing on astroturf at the Astrodome, Drabowski spent parts of two seasons playing at Busch Stadium on turf(he played for the Royals too, but at old Muni Stadium on grass), Baylor spent about a month playing at the Metrodome, and Stottlemyre never had artificial turf for a home surface.

Ken Brett spent three years playing at Three Rivers Stadium and Veteran's Stadium, then he played a few games at end of his career for the Twins and Royals, both who had turf stadiums.

Eric Davis spent eight years playing on the turf at Riverfront Stadium, but neither Brett Butler nor Daryl Strawberry ever played on home turf.
   37. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: May 19, 2011 at 09:29 PM (#3832834)
The American Cancer Society says that 1 in 159 people get multiple myeloma.

Baseball Reference says 81 players suited up for the Royals between 1980-1983 including Tufts, Quiz, Splittorf and Brett.

My take on this is small sample size, nothing more but that is an awfully big variance.


Ok, using those numbers I get a 40% chance that there will be at least one team with more than 5 myeloma cases in a 4 year span, assuming 30 teams* over a hundred year period. For 4 cases of myeloma, which if I am reading correctly, is what we have, that probability goes to 99.6%.

*Yeah I realized after that I shouldn't really use 30 there...
   38. zenbitz Posted: May 19, 2011 at 09:30 PM (#3832835)
T-T(est) or GTFO
   39. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: May 19, 2011 at 09:38 PM (#3832842)
Astroturf and the various sythetic grasses would be the first place I'd look, particularly if they ripped one rug up and put a new one in. Lots of solvents and fibers and late 70s/early 80s floating around. Scientifically and experimentally, the difficulty in precision is going to be the presence of season-ticket holders in roughly the same vicinity for roughly the same period of time. Players are obviously closer to it, and almost certainly exposed to less distilled doses.

EDIT: Apropos of likely nothing but maybe not, George Toma, legendary Royals turf artist, had/has prostate cancer.
   40. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 20, 2011 at 12:29 AM (#3832942)

Ok, using those numbers I get a 40% chance that there will be at least one team with more than 5 myeloma cases in a 4 year span, assuming 30 teams* over a hundred year period. For 4 cases of myeloma, which if I am reading correctly, is what we have, that probability goes to 99.6%.


Maybe I'm not understanding something, but Quiz and Brett had brain cancer, and Splitt had throat cancer. Unless "myeloma" means all cancer?
   41. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 20, 2011 at 12:43 AM (#3832955)
   42. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: May 20, 2011 at 01:27 AM (#3833000)
T-T(est) or GTFO


Relative risk FTW.

As an epidemiologist (or at least one in training), I'd say be very wary of cancer clusters. They are extremely difficult to prove, even if there is maybe something going on.

Assuming it's even true that baseball players are dying of any cancer at a higher rate, it could be as simple as a population of very wealthy, healthy athletes are at much less risk for more lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes or heart disease. They could be dying of those diseases at a lower rate than the general population, with a greater percentage dying of cancer. Might just be a proportional mortality problem.
   43. Something Other Posted: May 20, 2011 at 04:10 AM (#3833170)
How I know the world as we know it is almost over

in the newspaper I read
they have a new vacuum
so strong it can suck
a baby's head off before it can breathe
and some people are so mad
they shoot the doctors who
do that, in the name of god
saying "thou shalt not kill"
I wonder who will sorrow
when other babies reach eighteen
twenty-one or thirty-something
and get sniped in bosnia
somalia, iraq, okinawa, korea


De mortuis nil nisi bonum, but he's not making it easy.
   44. Mess with the Meat, you get the Wad! Posted: May 20, 2011 at 04:51 AM (#3833188)
Well now thats a depressing poem
   45. Bob Tufts Posted: May 20, 2011 at 04:54 AM (#3833191)
"The American Cancer Society says that 1 in 159 people get multiple myeloma."

(not per year - in their lifetime)

If you follow Sugarbear's suggestion and examine the makeup of Astroturf, you find that the pieces are held together by vinyl chloride - a Class A carcinogen according to the EPA. Perhaps the early Monsanto-manufactured turf was more chemically damgerous?
   46. Mess with the Meat, you get the Wad! Posted: May 20, 2011 at 05:03 AM (#3833197)
Wouldnt it be prudent to also look at football players (college and pro) who spent a lot of time on similar turf?

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