MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

D-backs cap hairy month of health awareness

Team's front office joined Hall in growing beards for men's health campaign

D-backs cap hairy month of health awareness

PHOENIX -- For the month of November, a group of D-backs front office personnel, including chief executive Derrick Hall, took on a challenge issued annually by local St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. They grew out their beards to support men's health in general and cancer medical services in particular.

The subject is near and dear to Hall, a prostate cancer survivor. So is Ken Kendrick, the club's managing general partner. November was Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, so it was a natural for the D-backs to take part in a project appropriately named "Let Your Humankindness Grow."

"This is a tremendous way to spread the word about men's cancer, men's health," Hall said. "As a cancer survivor, I wanted to take part in it. I probably should have the last couple of years. I probably will every November now."

Tuesday morning marked the day that many of the D-backs lined up for the straight-razor finish to the no-shave challenge in the courtyard outside of the new University of Arizona Cancer Center on Seventh and Fillmore streets in downtown Phoenix just about a mile north of Chase Field.

Along with many St. Joseph's Hospital executives and doctors, Hall, executive vice president Cullen Maxey and former D-backs players Luis Gonzalez and J.J. Putz sat in chairs to have their beards sheared by students from the International Barber College. Putz and Gonzalez are now special assistants to Hall.

Putz, the former D-backs closer who saved 45 games for the D-backs the last time they won the National League West title in 2011, was so happy with his new light brown beard that Hall called it "the best beard in the office."

"He said that? That's quite an honor," Putz deadpanned. "I'm keeping mine. Just going to trim it up a little bit."

Gonzalez, whose Game 7 walk-off single against Mariano Rivera won the 2001 World Series for the D-backs over the Yankees, couldn't wait to be clean-shaven again.

Hall said Gonzalez's bushy beard, sprinkled heavily with white and gray, made him look like "a Chia Pet," those ornamental plants that sprout chia in many shapes and forms.

"This is a great event, but I'm ready to get it off my face," Gonzalez said. "It creates great awareness for cancer. I did it for Derrick and it was great for everyone in the office to step up and say, 'This is what we're going to do.' It's pretty unique to have the whole office take part in something like this."

Hall learned he had prostate cancer back in 2011 and almost immediately underwent invasive surgery that revealed the disease had spread further than tests had indicated. Just as he was beginning to recover from that ordeal, his father, Larry, lost a three-year battle to pancreatic cancer. Hall's dad was 68, 24 years older at the time than his son.

Hall currently serves on or is associated with the boards of 25 organizations, including the National Advisory Council for Pancreatic Cancer and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He also heads his own Pro-State Foundation to promote early detection for prostate cancer.

It's essential that men take a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test every year to form a baseline for quickly detecting the onset of prostate cancer, Hall said.

"I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 by accident," he said. "Men do not go for physicals, for checkups, to proactively test. That's what this message is all about. So when Dignity Health, one or our great partners in the community, came to us and asked us to 'let kindness grow,' we said, 'Of course.' It's an opportunity again for us to drive awareness, to educate men."

The last four years have not been easy ones for Hall, who changed to a vegan diet. Along the way, he had a pancreatic cancer scare of his own and blood tests that indicate a possibility that the prostate cancer might have returned to his system. In both cases, test results turned out to be negative. And his results were so good three weeks ago he has graduated to six months of spacing between blood tests, always a significant milestone for cancer patients. That means doctors are confident his cancer is at bay.

The D-backs partner in the community with both the University of Arizona Cancer Center and Dignity Health, St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. So a month of growing beards in conjunction with those two organizations was as close as a whisker, so to speak.

The D-backs' outreach into the the local business and medical community is one of the best in Major League Baseball and perhaps is just as significant as their quest to win another World Series.

The D-backs have donated in excess of $40 million to Phoenix-area organizations since the club's inception in 1998 and on Tuesday gave $35,000 toward cancer research being conducted by the University of Arizona and St. Joseph's.

It's just a proverbial drop in the bucket, the now clean-shaven Hall knows, but each drop is significant.

"Collectively they add up," he said. "It helps us to reach different audiences than we have in the past. These are different people that we haven't been able to get to. It should be great for our partners to have celebrities like Gonzo and J.J. help get the word out.

"And for me, with my own foundation and experiences, all I can ask is that more men get their annual checkups. Too many men are either too afraid to go or too macho to go. I was one of them and it's the biggest mistake we can make."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.