Michael Milken has been a prostate cancer survivor for nearly 20 years now, and during one of his now-routine broadcast-booth visits during the fourth inning of Thursday's Indians-Reds game in Cincinnati, he cited Major League Baseball's ongoing partnership with his Prostate Cancer Foundation as the reason "most screenings happen during the 30 days immediately after Father's Day."
"The idea 17 years ago was keep Dad in the game, [and] the death rate is down almost 50 percent since we started," Milken said on the 14th stop of a 19-ballpark tour to help raise awareness. "In addition to that, 92 percent of all men now live five times longer, and with new treatments that are coming out now, we're going to get to 100 percent in four to five years. ... It's been amazing to see the support."
As Father's Day weekend approaches, monetary pledges for the 16th annual Prostate Cancer Foundation "Home Run Challenge" are up to $1,162,000. The joint initiative between MLB, the MLB Players Association and PCF culminates on Sunday, and is intended to increase awareness for prostate cancer early detection. Since its inception, it has raised nearly $40 million for PCF, the leading philanthropic organization funding and accelerating prostate cancer research.
So far, baseball fans and PCF sponsors have collectively pledged $14,000 per home run hit during select games between June 7-17, including all games on Father's Day. With 83 homers hit at this point (44 National League, 39 American League), $1,092,000 is slated to be donated toward research for prostate cancer. Fans still can pledge to the cause by calling 1-800-798-CURE (2873) or visiting HomeRunChallenge.org.
Joe Torre, MLB executive vice president of baseball operations, continues to be a spokesman for the partnership between baseball and PCF. He was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for prostate cancer shortly after his Yankees swept San Diego in the 1998 World Series. After a few months, he was back managing a dynasty, and he has cited early detection as a reason he has overcome the disease. Reds manager Dusty Baker also is among those in the game who are prostate cancer survivors, something Milken cited during the game at Cincinnati.
"This is the only sport where you can really sit there and talk to someone during the game, and a chance as a family to come to the game," Milken said. "That was originally our goal -- the great American pastime, come out, and what better way to raise money than the home run?
"There's been a lot of controversy recently about whether you should or shouldn't take the test. This is a diagnostic, an early warning system. It's made an enormous difference. With the money raised from home runs, there will be a new test coming out: a simple DNA urine test, which will be even more accurate. And you'll get more knowledge."
Knowledge is power on Father's Day in baseball. Two members of the legendary Beach Boys, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, recorded a special message in support of the prostate cancer awareness campaign. The public service announcement will run this weekend online and in ballparks.
On Father's Day, MLB players, managers, coaches, trainers, umpires and groundskeepers will wear blue wristbands and blue ribbon uniform decals. Additionally, clubs will host pregame ceremonies and use a special blue MLB Father's Day lineup card. Major League Baseball Charities has committed $50,000 to PCF as part of this effort.
Another MLB executive prominently involved with prostate cancer awareness efforts is D-backs president Derrick Hall. He was diagnosed with it last September, and underwent surgery in November to remove his prostate.
"There was still some escape of the cancer, something I'll have to monitor. It might require radiation in the future, but so far I'm OK," Hall said on Tuesday. "I take great pride in seeing the partnership MLB has with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Michael Milken and his group. The Home Run Challenge has been very successful in helping the overall efforts.
"Prostate cancer is becoming our [men's] version of breast cancer. It's more prevalent now than it ever has been, it's the second-leading cause of death among men for cancer, and it's something that's near and dear to me obviously."
As if fighting prostate cancer this past offseason was not hard enough, Hall also had to face the loss of his father, who died of pancreatic cancer -- a more deadly disease.
"This year, Father's Day hits me really hard because I unfortunately lost my dad in December, and I obviously worry about leaving my kids one day to prostate cancer," Hall said. "I worry about them all the time because of the hereditary nature of cancer."
Founded in 1993, PCF has raised more than $479 million and provided funding to more than 1,600 research projects at nearly 200 institutions in 15 countries around the world. For more information about PCF, please visit MLBCommunity.org or PCF.org.
"People ask me if it is a burden on the family. I don't look at it that way," Hall said. "I went public with it and continued to drive awareness to have people screen themselves. If you detect early, there is a treatment. I'm trying to educate men, drive awareness, and having the focus on this leading up to Father's Day is so important in helping."