Day 29 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Now batting, No. 29, Rod Carew … he connects, from the heart

During the 2016 World Series broadcast, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wore a bow tie honoring Rod Carew and the American Heart Association’s “Heart of 29” campaign. Apparel is available through Twitter’s HopeActiveWear account and 

“Rod Carew: One Tough Out:
Fighting off Life’s Curveballs”

The author:

Rod Carew
with Jaime Aron

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
336 pages
To be released May 12

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

Rod Carew was a known fastball hitter – interestingly, at anything pitched anywhere except down the heart of the plate. That would freeze him up. His unorthodox crouch-and-finesse batting stance from the left side actually changed pitch by pitch. That made sense to him, signaling where he thought the pitch would be coming and adjusting — or forcing the pitcher to pitch to his stance and then adjust to that thinking.

Curve balls, literally and metaphorically, gave him heartache.

Carew, Rod 3000th hit ball b121 91

It seems he’s now finally able to adjust to some of life’s major change ups without knuckling under.

Fittingly from Triumph Books, here is a triumphant reflection that comes from the heart. Specifically, it comes after a delayed heart transplant that now 74-year-old received in 2016 and the astounding story that unfolded along the way.

There are only two previous books attributed to the Hall of Famer: A 1979 bio written with Ira Berkow, when the 33-year-old left Minnesota after 12 years and came to the Angels, and a 1986 instructional book, “Rod Carew’s Art and Science of Hitting,” with Frank Pace and Armen Keteyian, the year after Carew retired at age 39 and starting a new career as a hitting instructor. Both were re-released in the mid 2000s.

While we definitely were in need of a refresh, we had to wait until he had the fortitude to come through with it.

Carew breaks this all down in three stages. The first 160-plus pages recap a life we may have read about before, but he corrects inaccuracies — all about growing up in Panama near the famous canal, moving to Manhattan with his mother as a way to flee his father, signing with the Twins, curious about how he was referenced in the 1967 Baseball Digest as a “Panamanian Negro,” becoming disenfranchise by the baseball business, forcing a trade to Anaheim, then taking No. 29 into retirement by both franchises once he passed the 3,000-hit milestone in his final season, securing a Hall of Fame election in 1991.

A14zspPi1AL._AC_SX425_(For the record: He was born aboard a racially segregated moving train in the town of Gatun. The doctor who tended to him was named Rodney Cline – where Rodney Cline Carew would get his first two names. But Carew clarifies he was actually delivered by a nurse named Margaret Allen. “Once the wails of a newborn rang out, the conductor summoned a physician from the white section – Dr. Cline, of source. While Dr. Cline became the inspiration for my name, Mrs. Allen became my godmother.”)

From this point, the Carew story goes from being characterized as “Sports & Recreation/ Baseball” to “Religion /Christian Living/ Inspirational.”

As one who idolized Jackie Robinson and eventually was given a Robinson-model heavier bat to use because it allowed him to drag slower through the hitting zone and eliminate a loop he had in his swing, Carew left the game as an active player after 19 seasons at age 39 in 1985 — the last seven in Anaheim. His 3,053 hits were 12th all time, his .328 average was 28th, only Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner had more than his seven batting titles (all of which came in Minnesota over a span of 10 seasons). The 18-time All Star, voted in as a rookie in 1967 when the game was in Anaheim, never made $1 million a season even in the glory days of free agency.

carewmichelleThe second and third parts of the book deal with life after playing — starting with bouncing around as a frustrated MLB hitting coach, including time back with the Angels where his life’s focus  quickly changes.

His youngest daughter Michelle came down with a rare form of leukemia and through a heroic battle, eventually died at 18. Not long after, Carew survived a near-fatal heart attack at a golf course. It led to a diagnosis of heart disease, resulting him wearing around a temporary heart-pumping machine. The eventual heart (and liver) transplant has the surreal connection of it having been donated by the family of a former NFL player from Orange County who once met as a youngster.

From in 2018.

While much of this has been documented in the media over the last five years, Carew steps to the plate revealing his own raw emotions — something many didn’t see during his introverted time as a player and coach. He realize how he could harness the power he has as a celebrity to create a platform of awareness, not just forg help needed to attract new blood and bone marrow donors that were vital during his daughter’s ordeal, but also to express thanks for the bittersweet result of an organ donor’s family who can experience their loved one living on in someone else’s vessel.

As he figures out by page 311:

It took Michelle’s demise for me to discover that people liked Rod Carew the person, not just the ballplayer. And I discovered my success as a ballplayer gave me a platform to make a difference far more profound than anything that happens in baseball.

He continues …

I’ve been blessed. Even when it may not have seemed like it, God has been there for me. He’s taken care of me. He’s also shown me my purpose – why I’ve fought off every curveball life has thrown at me. My purpose is improving the lives of other people. Yet what I’ve come to learn is this: When your aim is helping others, the person you help most is yourself.

The book is a blessing as well, if not just for him but all who can see Carew through a new filter that requires a Kleenex to keep it as real as Carew does.  Add to that the blessing of having the journalistic navigational help of Aron, the former sports editor at the Texas bureau for the Associated Press for 13 years and author of six previous books who is now the senior writer for the American Heart Association and knows this story well:


How it goes in the scorebook

A well-placed, sharply shaped double down the left-field line, slicing over the drawn-in third baseman.

Rod_Carew-Hall-of-Fame-PlaqueIn numerology circles, 29 is relatable to relationships, compassion and teamwork. The person associated with this known to be diplomatic, a team worker and enjoy trusted companionship.

During his playing days with the Angels, it was difficult to see any of that in Carew, who admits in this book to creating a boundary because of a surly nature. Surely, it’s what many around the Angels experienced. Call it intense focus, as a way to keep the media from being a distraction, but it’s not often we find out about all this until the player retires then realizes a need for community and stability, often seeking it from those he may have once alienated.

For sportswriters who could never get a good read on him – he admits here he’s always been a half-glass guy, but carried around a “hitters arrogance” that permeated many of his other interactions – this read brings Carew into a far more endearing scope, more empathetic for what he went through. There could be a comparison to how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar navigated his pro career in not always trusting of the media, prickly, a tendency to shut down and lash out when trouble came, threatening to walk away because it’s not worth the trouble. Carew say she was often a flight risk who had to be talked into staying and deal with problems.

From the American Heart Association news archive.

It maybe problematic to some that Carew has become more gracious and appreciative of his latest part of the journey. He says his faith doesn’t come from the fact he converted to Judaism – his first wife was Jewish, and they brought their three daughters up in that religion, but he never official converted (despite telling Adam Sandler he might want to change the lyrics to “The Chanukah Song.”) The place he seems to find the best spiritual connection these days is through Saddleback Church and Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” It shows now that Carew feels his life has a purpose.

Perhaps those scribes who watched him escape to the trainers room and avoid being quoted from the late ’60s to the mid ’80s find some redemptive measure of closure with this new Carew revelation, and realize he could possibly gain even more after telling his story now. We’re thankful for that change of heart.

From a January, 2016 New York Times story headlined: “How A Survivor, Carew Weeps without Shame” (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Associated Press). He also appeared at a Dodger Stadium game in 2016 to promote his cause.

More to research

= Carew’s bio from the Society for American Baseball Research

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