Ozzie Smith: ‘We’re back to baseball the way we grew up knowing it’

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American men, behind only skin cancer. But it is treatable — only one out of 35 men who get it dies from it. Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, a spokesman for the Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer, talked with Sporting News’ Matt Crossman about that campaign and baseball topics.

Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

SN: Tell me about the campaign.
Smith: I’m encouraging all men 50 and older — 40 and older if you’re African American and those with a family history of the disease — to get involved talking to their doctor about their prostate health. With early detection, prostate cancer is not only treatable, it’s beatable. One out of every six men in the country will at some point in time have to deal with prostate cancer. The key to eradicating this is early detection.

So many men, men that I know, especially in the baseball family, have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Because of early detection, they’ve been able to cure it. The good news is when it’s detected early, the survival rate is very high. More than 90 percent of the prostate cancer cases are discovered when the cancer is either local or regional. Nearly 100 percent of men are still living five years after being diagnosed.

SN: Where are we in terms of persuading men that it isn’t that embarrassing to get it checked?
Smith: It’s always been an issue with men because we’re all so personal and we don’t want to get involved. That’s why we’re calling on women to talk to their loved ones and get into that first conversation about how important it is to get that prostate checked. The earlier you detect it, the better chance you have of living a great, normal, long life.

SN: Now some baseball questions. The shortstop position, in your era, was flashy gloves, and if you could hit, great. Then we went through the A-Rod, Cal Ripken era where the guys were bombers. Has it flipped back?
Smith: It’s not completely back yet, but it’s certainly in that direction. Offense has always been such a big part of the game, but we overdid it. I think we’ve done a pretty good job at this point at putting into place deterrents to keep guys from using performance-enhancing drugs. I think we’re back to baseball the way we grew up knowing it, fundamentals being put at the forefront.

SN: Is there a defensive player out there about whom you think, That guy’s changing the game because he’s so good defensively?
Smith: I don’t know if I can say if there’s anybody who’s changing the game. I didn’t set out to do that, either. I just wanted to be as consistent as I could possibly be, making the routine plays every day. Great plays, they take care of themselves. So, no, I can’t say there’s one guy. I do think we are getting back to the prototypical shortstop. For a long period of time, it was (try to) find that guy who was 6-4, 6-5 who had range and had power and could hit 25, 30 home runs a year and drive in 100. I think those guys are very hard to come by.

SN: Who’s your pick for the World Series?
Smith: It’s real hard right now. Once we get (into) the second part of the season, that’s when all things kind of filter out. The pretenders kind of go away.

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American men, behind only skin cancer. But it is treatable — only one out of 35 men who get it dies from it. Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, a spokesman for the Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer, talked with Sporting News’ Matt Crossman about that campaign and baseball topics.

Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Ozzie Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

SN: Tell me about the campaign.
Smith: I’m encouraging all men 50 and older — 40 and older if you’re African American and those with a family history of the disease — to get involved talking to their doctor about their prostate health. With early detection, prostate cancer is not only treatable, it’s beatable. One out of every six men in the country will at some point in time have to deal with prostate cancer. The key to eradicating this is early detection.

So many men, men that I know, especially in the baseball family, have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Because of early detection, they’ve been able to cure it. The good news is when it’s detected early, the survival rate is very high. More than 90 percent of the prostate cancer cases are discovered when the cancer is either local or regional. Nearly 100 percent of men are still living five years after being diagnosed.

SN: Where are we in terms of persuading men that it isn’t that embarrassing to get it checked?
Smith: It’s always been an issue with men because we’re all so personal and we don’t want to get involved. That’s why we’re calling on women to talk to their loved ones and get into that first conversation about how important it is to get that prostate checked. The earlier you detect it, the better chance you have of living a great, normal, long life.

SN: Now some baseball questions. The shortstop position, in your era, was flashy gloves, and if you could hit, great. Then we went through the A-Rod, Cal Ripken era where the guys were bombers. Has it flipped back?
Smith: It’s not completely back yet, but it’s certainly in that direction. Offense has always been such a big part of the game, but we overdid it. I think we’ve done a pretty good job at this point at putting into place deterrents to keep guys from using performance-enhancing drugs. I think we’re back to baseball the way we grew up knowing it, fundamentals being put at the forefront.

SN: Is there a defensive player out there about whom you think, That guy’s changing the game because he’s so good defensively?
Smith: I don’t know if I can say if there’s anybody who’s changing the game. I didn’t set out to do that, either. I just wanted to be as consistent as I could possibly be, making the routine plays every day. Great plays, they take care of themselves. So, no, I can’t say there’s one guy. I do think we are getting back to the prototypical shortstop. For a long period of time, it was (try to) find that guy who was 6-4, 6-5 who had range and had power and could hit 25, 30 home runs a year and drive in 100. I think those guys are very hard to come by.

SN: Who’s your pick for the World Series?
Smith: It’s real hard right now. Once we get (into) the second part of the season, that’s when all things kind of filter out. The pretenders kind of go away.

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