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06/15/07 10:00 AM ET

Watson preaches early detection

VP of on-field operations raises prostate cancer awareness

Bob Watson has a full schedule already, which one might expect from Major League Baseball's vice president of on-field operations, as well as its chief disciplinarian.

But no matter how busy he might be, there's one outside activity Watson, 61, always makes time for in his day-to-day life, and it's his role as an activist in increasing the visibility and awareness of prostate cancer prevention and treatment.

"I talk to men's groups, hospitals and churches as well as refer people -- especially African-American men -- to me on a regular basis to talk about prostate cancer," Watson said. "I do public service announcements for the American Cancer Society as well as M.D. Anderson [cancer treatment center in Houston]. And, in general, I make myself available."

After his playing career came to a close, Watson made history after the 1993 season when he accepted the position of general manager of the Houston Astros, becoming the first African-American to serve as a Major League GM. But just months after taking the job, he took a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test during 1994 Spring Training, and results showed indications of prostate cancer.

Another test showed his particular cancer was very aggressive, and as a result, Watson underwent surgery to remove his prostate on July 5, 1994. Fortunately for him, the prostate was removed before the cancer had spread anywhere else, and he's led a healthy and routine life since that point.

"The only reason I'm still here is early detection and a PSA blood test," Watson said. "I'm a 13-year survivor. With early detection, the survival rate is 97 to 98 percent. [People] have a chance to beat this with early detection, and that's a message they need to hear."

Given his position at the time, Watson recommended that PSA screenings become a regular part of Astros team physicals. From there, Major League Baseball adopted the policy for all its teams. Since then, those screenings have helped to detect prostate cancer in several league employees, most notably New York Yankees manager Joe Torre in 1999.

But for Watson, the message doesn't stop with Major League Baseball. It's about using his fame to reach the maximum number of people he can.

"Now that I'm the VP of on-field operations, I have a platform that I can get this message out," Watson said.

"A lot of guys are macho and don't want to go to the doctor, especially with the digital test (which goes along with the PSA). There's a fear of having it and a fear of sexual impotency. This is an issue. But if a woman is educated about it, she might get a man to a doctor or direct him to someone of note."

Watson also strives to increase prostate cancer awareness, particularly within the African-American community.

"It's important for them to see someone with color who has been through the experience," Watson said.

"African-Americans are five times more susceptible, and many aren't aware of that. I want them to know about the need for screenings and the PSA."

He urges those with a history of prostate cancer in their family to begin the screening process by age 40, and advises all others to start by the time they are about 45. He says the PSA test -- which usually only costs between $12 and $15 -- is critical and should be a focal point of each checkup.

Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.