The Philadelphia Phillies organization has had a rough year. On the field, things went South quickly. That was the peak of their season. Off the field, the organization has been riddled by the deaths of former Phillies due to brain cancer. In the past nine years, five Phillies have been diagnosed with brain cancer, while four lost their respective battles. In early July, former catcher Darren Daulton became the fifth ex-Phillies ballplayer to be diagnosed with brain cancer.
While everyone associated with the Phillies is searching for answers, some have speculated that the architectural disaster which was Veterans Stadium may have been to blame. The Vet was ignominously known for its hardened, almost amateurishly installed AstroTurf surface, rotten smell and its uncanny resemblance to a concrete prison. Those were just a few of many factors that contributed to it being named the worst stadium in sports history by ESPN's Page 2.
As awful as it was, some ex-Phillies believe it was worse for another reason. Naturally, some of them believe conditions on the field may have led to the unusual rate of brain cancer cases among former Phillies later in their lives.
A lot of people, former Phillies included, want to know if the illnesses are just bad luck or if there is some sort of connection — perhaps to Veterans Stadium, the multipurpose sports venue that was home to the franchise from 1971 to 2003 and demolished in 2004.
"Once it happened to Tug, we were all in shock," said Dickie Noles, a pitcher on the Phillies' 1980 World Series team. "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?"
Bowa said the same questions came up during recent conversations he had with former Phillies Dave Hollins, Greg Luzinski and Marty Bystrom.
"I know there were a lot of pipes that were exposed when we played there and we had AstroTurf," recalled Bowa, now an in-studio analyst for the MLB Network.
"I'm not trying to blame anybody. It's just sort of strange that that can happen to one team playing at the Vet."
Five Phillies victims in such a short span is apparently a lot. National studies have indicated males have a 0.7 percent chance of being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, with women at 0.6 percent. Local figures seem to indicate that 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.
Blaming The Vet has merit, but that also raises the question of why no Philadelphia Eagles have developed brain cancer. On the other hand, there's a huge difference between being exposed to The Vet's environment for 81 games a year compared to just eight. It sounds unlikely, but you never know. Hopefully, the eventual remission of Daulton's brain cancer is the last we hear of any ex-Phillies from The Vet era to be diagnosed with brain cancer.