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Six former Phillies died of the same cancer

Catcher Darren Daulton was one of six former Phillies who played at The Vet to die of a rare brain cancer.

Catcher Darren Daulton was one of six former Phillies who played at The Vet to die of a rare brain cancer.
Image: AP

The Philadelphia Inquirer gave a master class on journalism this week, publishing a report on the toxic chemicals infused in the turf at Veterans’ Stadium, which was (at least in part) launched by someone coming to the realization that six former Phillies players all died of the same rare brain cancer.

The media gets a lot of targeted crap these days from all angles. The right bashes the media for reporting on things they don’t want to hear; the left is usually upset the media isn’t reporting things the way they want to see them reported; and from everyone in the middle, who has just gotten in the habit of adopting both sides’ talking points and blaming the media for everything. But the Inquirer is out here reminding everyone why journalism, especially local journalism matters.

Here’s what they found:

Decades after the final out of the 1980 World Series was recorded, [Tug] McGraw, [John] Vukovich, [Ken] Brett, and [Dan] Quisenberry had all died from brain cancer.

They weren’t the only ones: In all, six former Phillies have reportedly been felled by glioblastoma — a particularly aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer — including former catcher Darren Daulton and former relief pitcher David West, who died in 2022.

The rate of brain cancer among Phillies who played at the Vet between 1971 and 2003 is about three times the average rate among adult men.

YIKES. How did no one start investigating this until now? I read the headline and the first people I thought of were Darren Daulton and Tug McGraw. Seems like someone involved with the Phillies more intimately should have started putting the pieces together a long time ago. But I digress.

Was it the old turf?

So the Inquirer dug up some old pieces of the turf, had them scientifically tested, and found some really bad stuff.

Inquirer decided to test the Vet’s turf. Athletes had dreaded playing on the surface, which was notorious for causing serious knee and ankle injuries. Through eBay, the newspaper purchased four souvenir samples of the fake grass that had blanketed the stadium’s field from 1977 to 1981. The team gave away the green keepsakes to thousands of fans in 1982, in 4-by-4-inch sealed plastic bags labeled “Official Turf of Champions.”

Tests run on two of the samples by Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories Environmental Testing found the turf contained 16 different types of PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — so-called “forever chemicals,” which the EPA has said cause “adverse health effects that can devastate families.”

Back when we were all making jokes about how bad the turf was at The Vet, we had no idea how right we were. A couple of other samples were sent to another lab, which also found PFAS, though the article is quick to point out that we’ll never really know the level of PFAS the players were exposed to. Or how damaging they were.

“Once PFAS gets into [a person’s] blood, they circulate through all the organs,” said Graham Peaslee, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame who has spent years studying PFAS compounds.

“We know that the liver is affected. We know that the kidneys are affected. We know the testicles are affected. But nobody’s ever done the study to see if the brain is affected, because glioblastoma is such a rare disease.”

I don’t want to share more than this, because I want people to go over to the Philly Inquirer and read the entire piece. And the follow-up piece. Corporations and their products (sometimes unknowingly, sometimes not), really do affect the quality of life for billions of people around the world. And all too often, journalists like those at the Philly Inquirer are the only ones investigating adverse impacts on that quality of life.

As for the Phillies, here’s what they had to say:

In a statement, the Phillies said the organization shares “the frustration and sadness of losing six members of our baseball family to brain cancer.”

The team said it consulted several brain cancer experts who told the organization that there is no evidence of a link between artificial turf and the disease.

Shout out to Craig Calcaterra for highlighting this story in his daily newsletter (which is excellent, btw).

We’re committed to covering news about the Phillies, as well as all of the MLB teams. For more about the Phillies, check out our Phillies page.



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