There was a time in his life, during his incomparable baseball career, when Rod Carew was not very keen to reveal much about his thoughts or feelings, especially with the writers who treated baseball daily.
“It’s funny,” he said in a recent phone call. “I didn’t speak much to the print media. But the TV, radio (interviewers), I always spoke to those guys because, you know, you record a session with them, at least they can come back and say,” Hey, this is what you said.’ Print media was different. You tell them one thing. The next day they turned it into what they wanted, so I retreated a bit after being burned a few times. ”
Few of us are or were. But in giving and taking the baseball season, with writers and players around for six months – anyway under normal circumstances – we sometimes tend to rub each other in the wrong direction.
I’m just happy that not only is Carew talking to us again, but he’s pulled back the curtain for a pretty remarkable life.
Carew’s autobiography is “One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs,” written with Jaime Aron. It was released on May 12 and he has not punched.
He describes a life that started when he was born on a divorced train in Panama, followed by a childhood marred by an abusive father. Carew developed a talent for baseball that, after his mother and siblings migrated to New York, had him scouted and signed by the Minnesota Twins – basically signed under the nose of the Yankees.
That led to a Hall of Fame career with seven batting championships, 3,053 career hits, a career .328 batting average, a lifetime .393 on-base percentage (four-time leader in that category) and 17 steals at home during 12 seasons with Minnesota and seven with the Angels.
But the back of the book is even more convincing. Carew, 74, talks about the leukemia that killed his daughter Michelle in 1996 at the age of 18, and the promise he made to his daughter that he would open up to be a spokesperson for the cause of childhood cancer. Research . He discusses the tensions that eventually ended his first marriage; the love and support of his current wife, Rhonda; the September 2015 heart attack he survived and the December 2016 heart and kidney transplants that saved his life; and the ties between families because the heart that Carew entered came from former NFL player Konrad Reulandwho had died of a brain aneurysm.
In fact, if you only get one thing out of his book, or even this column, it should be this: get a heart check. If something is not right, have it repaired.
“You know, when I first came back, I went back to spring training,” said Carew, who is a spring trainer for the Twins. “The boys were welcome to me and I had a great conversation with the coaches. And I told them the story of what I’ve been through, and if they have relatives or friends to talk to, they should.
“Well, a man didn’t and got a call the next morning that his younger brother died of a heart attack.”
I asked him if it took any effort to get to the point where he could just go on and put everything there on paper, or if he’d made it that far.
“I am now ready to try not to let it affect me,” he said. “I feel a little more comfortable, but at least people know who I am, what I am, where I came from, what I went through, you know?”
Michelle encouraged him to be outgoing. He recalled a conversation they had at Orange County Children’s Hospital during the final stages of her battle with leukemia.
“She knew I didn’t speak to the press much,” he said. “And so she says,” Daddy, you know, I know this might be difficult for you, but I want you to spread your wings a little. That’s what she said to me. I said, “What do you mean?” (She said) “I want you to open because we all need your help. Not only me, all of us. You saw the kids in the hallway with their poles, soccer, hockey and all that. They all need help too. So I would like you to talk to the press. You know, help us. All those children help. ‘
“So I said okay. I promised her that until I leave this earth, I will always be available for things like that, especially for children. And I still do it. ‘
He had and has a strong platform for talking. Yet there is one absolute field in which you wonder whether the people who should listen actually do that. Even 3,053 career hits and an impeccable ability to control the bat in his playing days may not have that much money in the modern grip-it-and-rip-it game.
When he goes to spring training to work with the Twins’ hitters, he teams up with Torii Hunter, another former Twin and Angel. Torii encourages the young hitters to pay attention.
Do they listen?
“You know, I don’t think so,” said Carew. “I don’t think so at all, because I have to go to them. They don’t come to me. And sometimes I get so frustrated that I just wonder, why am I here if you don’t ask questions?”
Would Rod Carew have prospered in today’s game in his prime? He sought information well ahead of today’s computer prints and the three ring binders in the dug-out, basically charting every at bat against every pitcher he encountered in a pocketbook he kept in the dug-out.
I know so much: no one would push against him.
“When I first came, I could run and hit, and I used the whole field to hit,” he said. “And it was my job to get on base and try to score points. I could have reached more home runs than in the big leagues (92). But I had disciplined myself to keep what I had because it had brought me success. So why do I want to change everything and now I find myself shuffling to try to hit the ball out of the margin? ‘
He noted that the march back to the dug-out after taking the hit was “the longest walk.” The closest to triple figures in strikeouts was his rookie year in 1967, when he played 91 times in 137 games. In the past 13 years of his career, he struck no less than 60 times.
Would you like someone with those skills in your batting order? For me it is a stupid question.
But what he’s doing now – raising awareness of heart health, childhood cancer research and organ donation – puts him in the middle of another very important line-up.
“We all go through these things in life, whoever we are,” he said. “Hopefully I can help someone. It’s always about helping, you know? ‘
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