The announcement that former Phillies catcher Darren Daulton died of brain cancer yesterday was certainly sad news. Also sad: he was not the first former Phillies player to do so. In addition to Daulton, Tug McGraw, John Vukovich, Ken Brett and Johnny Oates all succumbed to it.
This cluster, such as it is, was discussed at length back when Daulton was first diagnosed back in 2013 and will likely come up again today as the baseball world remembers Daulton. At the time it was noted that, among players who called Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia their home ballpark, brain cancer rates were 3.1 times higher than the national average. Obviously, however, we’re dealing with a super small sample size here, and cancer clusters of note involve far, far greater subjects and incidents. Epidemiologists who talked about it in stories at the time all noted that, while interesting and unusual, there simply wasn’t the sort of data available to draw any meaningful conclusions from it. Ken Brett, for example, only played in Philly for one season. Hundreds of Philadelphia Eagles players called the Vet home and the club is unaware of any brain cancer diagnosis among its former players. It’s likely it would be impossible to establish that this is anything other than a sad coincidence.
This is not the only cancer cluster discussed in baseball circles. Several years ago former Royals pitcher Bob Tufts noted that he and several other ex-Royals had been diagnosed with or died of cancer as well. In addition to Tufts, Paul Splittoroff, Dick Howser and Dan Quisenberry died from various forms of the disease after spending time in K.C.. Again, anecdotal. Baseball’s most common cancer threat: skin cancer. Three years ago James Wagner wrote an excellent and enlightening story about that in the Washington Post.
Cancer doesn’t play favorites, of course, and no one has gone through life untouched by it somehow. The Darren Daulton Foundation exists to provide financial assistance to those affected by the disease. The Phillies and the Foundation will host a community night at Citizens Bank Park on September 17, which was scheduled before Daulton’s passing. In light of it, the event will presumably become something larger.