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Is the lifespan of baseball players increasing?


Behold, my first sports-related post on I told you I would talk sports over here on occasion. Not as often as on ye olde site, but sometimes.

090620-navarro-vlg-9p.widecAn interesting thought came to mind as I was reading an old issue of Baseball Digest. Every year, Baseball Digest publishes a necrology, listing all the people from baseball (players, owners, umpires, etc) who died in the past year. Each entry features a brief paragraph bio on the deceased’s baseball career as well as the deceased’s age. This time while reading I happened to queue in on a few of the advanced ages – 86, 89, 93, 91, 87, 92, etc. Even though there were a few tragic accidents and younger ballplayers listed, could the average baseball player be living longer?

We often hear a lot about great medical breakthroughs that prolong the life of the average person. According to the almighty Wikipedia, “record life expectancy has risen linearly for men and women” since 1840. Also in the 1840s, Alexander Cartwright codified the first “rules” of baseball – things such as 90ft between the bases, nine innings, etc. So therefore, one should expect the average lifespan of baseball players should then be consistently rising in accordance with the average person.

However, whereas the average lifespan of an American in 2009 is approximately 79, the average age of death of the major league personnel listed in Baseball Digest is barely over 75. This list includes not only former players, but also front office personnel, writers (former president of the Baseball Writers Association Neil Hohfeld was only 56), and announcers (former Braves announcer Skip Caray was only 68).

There is no doubt all sports put wear and tear on athletes’ bodies. The wear and tear is even worse with when athletes fill their bodies with steroids, human growth hormones, uppers, downers, “greenies”, or any other kind of non-prescribed medication. They are sacrificing their lives for performance, which of course equals financial gain or additional fame. I don’t hold it against them, that’s the cost (or perceived cost) of competition.

On the other hand, current athletes are prescribing to amazing diets, workout regiments, and lifestyles. They now take care of themselves year-round with the help of doctors, trainers, and fleets of other physical advisers. Could this emphasis on life and performance have an effect on overall lifespan? Or will the positives of diet and lifestyle be outweighed by the negatives of unhealthy performance enhancers? Of course, I suspect those with physically destructive behaviors would die first, and those who continue to live well to live longer. So it is very possible we could see a decrease in lifespan of baseball players as they as a group flush out those with negative behaviors.

I know I could very well answer my own question. Unfortunately, the research is too much work for my simple blogging self. It would require finding out who died when, how old they were, and then find the average death age per year across 160 years of baseball history. Of course, I fully expect their to be anomalies, so the idea of picking one year each decade wouldn’t work.

(By the way, I think if this study was extended to all athletes in the major American sports, the lifespan of baseball players would probably be the closest to the lifespan of an average American man. Basketball requires freakish genetics which may possibly have an effect on lifespan; football not only requires enormous bulk in the case of linemen, but also involves an extraordinary amount of brain-jarring collisions; and hockey is also a violent sport.)

(Image is of 103-yr old former Negro League ballplayer Emilio Navarro throwing out the first pitch at a 2009 game between the Oakland A’s and San Diego Padres.)


3 comments on Is the lifespan of baseball players increasing?

  1. Well, old as in April. I have stacks of magazines, movies, and CDs I need to read, listen to, and watch. So that’s not too old, right? It’s this year. How old is too old to read?

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