I play a lot of golf these days, but my first love was baseball.
I played other sports, but one by one my interest gave way to reality.
Football? I’m still an avid football fan, but I realized early on that I was too small to play against those behemoths on the other side.
Basketball? Not a bad jump shot, but check out the size of Kareem. Get serious, dude.
Ah, but baseball. In baseball, you didn’t have to be a giant. Heck, most every infielder I saw on television was small and agile. Like me.
So I loved baseball, loved everything about the game. I played virtually every spring and summer day in my youth, with fantasies of someday playing for the Yankees, maybe replacing Phil Rizzuto. He was so small they called him “Scooter.”
And fantasies they were. I was a pretty fair infielder but one without a strong arm. I could never hit for power or consistency and, frankly, by the time I finished high school, I had moved on to other fantasies (writing the great American novel was one.)
Still, I’ve always thought baseball players were the best-conditioned athletes in sports — and a recent study by Harvard University adds credence.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported by The New York Times, found that major league baseball players have longer life spans than the general population.
Researchers studied 10,451 major leaguers who died between 1979 and 2013 and found that at any given age they were 24 percent less likely to die than the general population.
A 2006 study found that baseball players lived 4.1 years longer than the general population; players with 11 or more years in the major leagues lived 7.2 years longer — an indication that better conditioning let them play longer.
My own Rizzuto fantasy was heartened by the finding that shortstops and second basemen outlive outfielders. As Mark G. Weisskoph of Harvard put it: “They do tend to be smaller, more slender and lithe. That could be a health factor.’‘ New York Yankee catcher Austin Romine offered a simple reason for baseball players’ longer life span: “We’re exercising our entire bodies, every day, for 160 games. It’s the Longest season in sports.’‘
The study found that baseball players experience higher rates of death from lung and skin cancer.
”We would expect sun exposure or tobacco for those cancers,’‘ Weisskoph said. A slightly higher rate of blood cancer probably comes from the chemicals used on baseball fields, he said.
Unlike NFL players, there were no increased rates of dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig disease) or Parkinsons. Indeed, another study found that NFL players had almost three times the mortality from these neurological diseases.
While we’re on the subject, it should be noted that major league baseball has the strongest, most generous retirement program in professional sports. According to the Times, players get a substantial pension after a few months in the majors and full medical benefits the day they join a team.
Now I’ll be honest. I don’t know what all this research on the longevity of a baseball player has to do with the price of tuna, except maybe this: Mama, raise your little boy to be a second baseman, not a quarterback. Sorry, Tom Brady.
Contact Bob Bestler at email@example.com.