Kobritz: Why do baseball players live longer?
BEYOND THE LINES
One prescription for a longer life may be to play Major League Baseball. That was the conclusion of a recent study by Harvard researchers, published in the peer reviewed medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The scientists reviewed 10,451 Major Leaguers who died between 1979 and 2013. They determined that at any given age, ballplayers are 2% less likely to die than the average male in the general U.S. population.
The researchers suggested a number of possible explanations for their findings, including, players are generally fitter than the average male. Austin Romine, catcher for the New York Yankees, agreed. “We’re exercising our entire bodies, every day, for 160 games,” he said. “It’s the longest season in sports.” Romine’s conclusion is correct, though his numbers were inaccurate.
The regular MLB season consists of 162 games, plus potential playoffs for some players. Add in six weeks of Spring Training, plus the daily workouts that are now part of every player’s off-season routine, and most ballplayers exercise year ‘round.
There may be other contributing factors to the longer lives of players that the study didn’t address, one being MLB players have a generous retirement program that includes lifetime access to full medical benefits.
An earlier study found that Major Leaguers lived an average of 4.1 years longer than other males. Players with careers lasting 11 years or more lived 7.4 years longer, suggesting a possible correlation between longer careers and extended life spans.
The new study also found subtle differences between Major League players and the rest of the population in causes of death. For example, while a long career was associated with a decrease in the mortality rate for cardiovascular disease, those same longtime players had higher rates of death from cancer, particularly of the lungs and skin. Sun exposure and tobacco use could be causes of death from cancer.
Players spend a good deal of time in the sun and many players in the study used tobacco products, which weren’t banned in Minor League Baseball until 1993.
Another interesting conclusion by the researchers was baseball players had no increased rates of dementia, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, which contrasts sharply with NFL players. A recent study found that compared to MLB players, football players had almost three times the mortality rate from these neurological diseases.
The researchers also noted differences by positions played. For example, catchers had the highest rates of mortality from diseases related to the groin area and urinary tract. However, there was no evidence that the first explanation that comes to mind, catchers crouch a lot and are susceptible to foul tips to the groin, is in fact the correct one.
In addition, shortstops and second basemen had lower rates of death from disease compared to pitchers, and outfielders were less likely to die of injuries than infielders.
When Romine heard the good news relative to outfielders, he had an immediate retort, perhaps tinged with contempt. “Yeah,” he said. “They’re too far away from the ball to get hurt.”
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.