Hall of Famer Johnny Bench talks baseball, skin cancer

Johnny Bench: ‘I became part of the message to say, ‘Listen to me, I've been through it. You don't want it. Play Sun Smart.'

Johnny Bench: ‘I became part of the message to say, “Listen to me, I’ve been through it. You don’t want it. Play Sun Smart.”‘

Johnny Bench is considered by many to be the greatest catcher of all time.

During his 16 years with the Cincinnati Reds, he was an All-Star 14 times, and won two World Series rings, two MVP awards and 10 Gold Glove awards in part by simply trying to catch every ball thrown at him.

Three years ago, life threw Bench a curveball in the form of basal cell carcinoma. Decades of playing baseball in the glaring sun had finally taken its toll. He approached his fight against skin cancer with the same grit and determination of his Hall of Fame career in Major League Baseball.

Bench shared the story of his personal bout with skin cancer and his involvement with the Play Sun Smart campaign during Sunday’s Plenary session, and in an interview about his involvement in the program.

The baseball legend’s first step in beating skin cancer was a visit to AAD President Brett Coldiron, MD, in Cincinnati, who removed the cancerous growths from his eyelids.

“I looked like I’d been in a fight with Ali, but that became the impetus for getting into Play Sun Smart,” Bench said.

Play Sun Smart™, created in 1999, is a joint effort of AAD and Major League Baseball to raise awareness of skin cancer, and offer prevention and detection tips to the baseball community. Since its inception, Academy members have conducted more than 31,000 skin cancer screenings through the program.

“Major League Baseball is very involved in trying to get more people to wear their hats, wear their sunglasses, and put on their sunscreen,” Bench said. “I became part of the message to say, ‘Listen to me, I’ve been through it. You don’t want it. Play Sun Smart.’”

During his youth baseball days and even during his time in the major leagues, Bench said he heard little about the dangers of sun exposure. He did often hear commonly shared wisdom of the day though.

“When I was a kid they said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Well, why don’t we still do that? The smartest thing is to get people to come in for these scans and get the prevention before it even happens,” he said.

Sunday, Bench shared stories from his book Catch Every Ball: How to Handle Life’s Pitches. He also shared the keys to a successful life that he’s learned throughout his own.

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