Rod Carew is a baseball Hall of Famer who played for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. He won 7 AL batting titles, was a 18x All Star, the 1967 AL rookie of the year, and 1977 AL MVP. After retirement he has dedicated his life to ending childhood cancer in partnership with Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In 2015 he had a massive heart attack that nearly ended his life. He received a transplant 2 years later and went to work raising awareness about heart health via the Heart of 29 campaign in partnership with the American heart association.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It is the largest fully-integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. This is a super special edition because we’ve got with us today, Rod Carew, the Hall of Famer, 18-time All-Star, and 7-time American League batting champion including 1967 American League Rookie of the Year, plus he’s part of the greatest fraternity in the world as it’s said in his new book, “One Tough Out.” It’s Rod Carew with us today. Yes, Rod Carew is with us. Thank you for joining us today on the Impact Podcast, Rod.
Rod Carew: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.
John: It’s really fitting. I cracked your book open to start reading it a few weeks back and the first quote in the book is, “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.” Of course, that’s the great Jackie Robinson, and here you are on the Impact Podcast. I just want to say, I’m so grateful after having read this great book that’s available on your website rodcarew.com and also Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other great bookstores. I grew up loving you. You were one of my heroes but you’re so much more than baseball. When people read this book and they understand everything that you’ve done to make an impact on so many people’s lives. I just want to know, when the movie’s coming? That’s what I want to know, Rod.
Rod: Well, first of all, we have to find someone to play me, someone that can hit.
John: I’m sure you have some ideas and someone you want to play you in the movies. Let’s start from the beginning. You were born in Panama and you had not the easiest of upbringings. You had a very loving and Christian mother, but your dad made it tough on you and more than a sort of tough on you. It’s amazing when you meet people and I’m just trying to understand the resilience that you had as a child to make it through. When you think back to that, was it your mother’s Christian faith that she instilled in you that help you make it through that tough period with your life?
Rod: Yeah. Definitely. She always told me that I have God in my pocket and He’s going to take care of me and follow me throughout my life. So, that was a great part of growing up, knowing that she had the faith in me and allowed me to know God and what a great man He is.
John: You made your way to New York where you spent some of your youthful years in New York City, right, growing up?
Rod: Yeah. After I left Panama, I went to New York and I still had to dream of one day playing in the big leagues because I used to play right outside of McCombs field. I’d hear when the Yankees had a game. You hear the roar of the crowd and I’m up there, I’m standing at home plate and I’m saying to myself, “One day, you’re going to play in this Stadium,” and I did. It was a great part of knowing myself, understanding myself, and knowing that I had to tell it to maybe one day be a major league baseball player.
John: When you make it to baseball, you break in and you made some good friends early on that became the great male role models in your life that you were missing as a child. Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and some other great ones really put a big mark on your life and taught you how to be a man once you cracked into baseball, huh?
Rod: Yeah, I met Tony when the twins were in town one time and they invited me out to work out with the team. They didn’t have a uniform my size because I was just a tall lanky kid and didn’t have much meat on my body. So, they gave me Tony’s number and we just became great friends and he taught me everything. He taught me how to handle myself on the field, how to go about playing. It was a great time for me because he really took interest in me. And what came from that is we became roommates after I made my first year in the big leagues. We roomed for about 11 or 12 years. We just had a great time and did everything together.
John: What an education, too. Then, you also became good friends with Harmon Killebrew as well.
Rod: Well, Harmon and I used to have these ice cream eating contests. He was a great ice cream guy. And I say, “Harmon, I’ll beat you in the ground.” He says, “Okay, let’s do it.” And so, the first time we went out, Harmon ate about a pint and a half and I just put him down. I ate about a quart and he couldn’t believe that I could sit in one sitting and eat that much ice cream. He gave me a chance to do it again, and then I beat him again so he just gave up. He says, “That’s it.”
John: One thing I’ve learned throughout my life, Rod, is athletes know no bounds of what to compete in. You guys will compete in anything you can. You’re so competitive. That competitive streak runs right through you in so many ways, doesn’t it?
Rod: Yeah. I really love the competition because I always felt that I was going to do good. Like my mom said, “You’ve got God in your pocket and He’s going to let you do some things that maybe you don’t think you’re capable of doing.”
John: Two things I loved that you mentioned in the book, the 2 anecdotes about Harmon Killebrew. One, you said he told you really the line, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” What a great lesson that is and what a simple message that is.
Rod: Well, it was something that was great to me because we’re from a different breed of, say, the guy that goes to work every day and we were gifted with the talent that God gave each and every one of us. When He gave me mine, He said, “Take this gift I’m giving you and work at it and become better. Just don’t throw it away like a lot of guys would.” So, I followed that and turned out okay.
John: You were known for your base-stealing ability, besides, of course, you’re hitting ability, which was beyond amazing. But you stole a lot of bases including home plate, more than most. There was a great story though, how silly home plate was pretty much joy in your life and you had a lot of success doing it. Except for the time Harmon Killebrew got the signal, and you steal and he probably forgot that you were going to be coming down the Pike Fair.
Rod: Yeah, Billy Martin was the guy that works with me every day in spring training, on wind-ups, how far I could go, and when to take off. But he says, “First thing that we’re going to work on is giving everybody a sign. When you flashed the sign to them, they know that you were coming.” On this one occasion with Harmon, I flashed a sign, he answered me, so I figured okay. But then when I took off and I was getting ready to slide into home plate, he started yelling out, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I missed it. I missed it.” So, the next day, the guys in the PR room came down with this tombstone and it said, “Here lies Rod Carew lined to left by Killebrew.” I had a lot of fun with that. Harmon apologizes up and down. He says, “Man, I just forgot in that split second. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I say, “Well, I’m glad you did swing.”
John: That’s great. That is just great. I’m a huge fan, of course, of all sports in baseball and I enjoyed the movie Moneyball so much and they gave Billy Beane all the credit for Moneyball. But after reading your book and again for our listeners and viewers out there, his book is one of the best books I’ve read in the last 5 years. “One Tough Out” by Rod Carew just shows you how much he’s done to make an impact on so many people’s lives way beyond baseball. The story goes that one of your keys to your hitting success besides the fact that you knew how to change your stance and move around, we’ll talk about that a little later, is that you actually kept a black notebook and pencil and you were doing Moneyball on your own way before you became invoked to keep stats in doing statistical analytics on baseball.
Rod: Well, it’s funny. Tony and I believe and went out one day. We bought this little camera. We took pictures of each other when we were hitting. We’ll go back to the hotel, strip the sheet off the bed, put it up as a screen, and there we were watching each other swing and when I did something wrong, Tony would point it out to me and vice versa I did the same thing with him. We had a lot of fun doing that and we learned about ourselves and we watched ourselves and made small corrections. We started the video thing long before these guys came up with all these different angles you can view while you’re making changes.
John: You also kept track in your little black book with a pencil on all the pitchers you face. You actually had a history on all those pitchers which you felt gave you a leg up on how to hit them the next time you face them better. Is that not, correct?
Rod: Yeah. Understanding pitchers were something that I was very keen on. I always wanted to remember a guy who pitched me if I’m going to face him the next time. I remember on one occasion I did that with Catfish Hunter. We flew into New York for a weekend series and Thurman Munson was a guy that used to just drive me nuts. He would throw dirt on my shoes, untie my shoelaces. I think Friday night, I had two or three hits. The next night, I was standing by the batter’s cage and he was headed down to the bullpen and he said, “How many are you going to get tonight?” I said, “Well, maybe two or three,” and he said, “Yeah, we’ll see about that.” I said to Thurman, “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to call the pitchers, and when I get ready to swing at the pitch and words going to go, I yell it out.” Ron Luciano was behind home plate, he was just cracking up and he looked at me, and said, “Can you really do that?” I said, “Yeah, watch.” That night that we played, I got into the batter’s box and Thurman says, “So what are you going to do tonight?” I say, “I am going to call every pitch that he throws me and then the pitch that I’m going to swing at, it’s going to be the pitch that I’m going to yell out, you know, work-wise and what type of hit it was.” He says, “Yeah, right.” He continues to untie my shoelaces, and Luciano was just waiting to see what was going to happen. The first pitch that Catfish got ready to deliver, I yelled out “Fastball, down and away!” He looked at me and says, “Are you peaking?” Because of the fighting stance that I had, he thought I could see signs [inaudible] Thurman and said, “I don’t have to look at your signs. I know exactly what I’m going to get.” On the second pitch, Catfish goes into the windup, gets rid of the release, and I yell “Slider, down and in!” And it was a slider down and in. Luciano’s back there cracking up and says, “How are you doing that? How are you doing that?” I say, “You’ll see, this is a big one right here, okay?” So, Thurman ran out to Catfish and says, “Yeah. He just calls the first two pitches you two insist. Let’s drill them.” I guess Catfish says, “Come back to home plate. I’m not going to throw out this guy.” Now, when he came back, I said, “Okay, Thurman. This is it.” And so, he continues to throw dirt on my shoes.” So I stepped…
John: Anything to distract you.
Rod: Yeah, that’s the kind of guy Thurman was. I said, “Come on, man. Let me just do this and get it over with,” he said, “Okay.” I step back into the batter’s box and I said, “This is it.” Catfish goes into his windup and gets ready to release and I yelled out, “Fastball away, double down the left-field line!” And that’s what happened. It was a fastball away and I hit a double down the left-field line. He comes out to the Catfish and I’m standing at second base and he’s yelling at me, “I’m going to get you! I’m going to get you!” I said, “Okay.” That was because I had my little black book and because I remembered how Catfish used to pitch to him. The next day, I’m standing at the batter’s cage and so he comes out and he says, “How did you do that last night?” I pulled my little black book out of my pocket and I said, “Hey, turn to Catfish and read the sequence of pitches that he normally threw me all the times that I faced it and those were the pitches, you know, it’s always fastball-slider and then fastball away.” He looked at me and he says, “Well, we’re going to change this stuff around.” I say, “Hey, you can’t change old dogs. They continue to be that way.” But it was funny. He got a kick out of it, and so did I. Luciano when I was at second base. He started waving [crosstalk] Yeah!
John: He gave you all about. [inaudible].
Rod: And he told that story quite a bit, and he says, “Man, that was unbelievable.” So, Luciano and I became good friends, and he said, “I’m not calling any pitches tonight. I’m going to let you call in pitches.” I say, “No, that’s okay. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I had fun with it and I saw you having fun and you bow down to me and stuff like that.”
John: It’s so fascinating. In the book, you talked about not only did the black book serve you well, and you did so much homework through that black book. But go back to your stance again, your stance was historically unorthodox which is interesting because so many little kids in America or other parts of the world grow up saying, “I want to hold the bat. I want to swing like this person or that person.” And you said the reason for your batting stance and the amount that you changed it was because you actually grew up in Panama and didn’t have a lot of exposure to how the people you were listening to were holding the bat and swinging away. You have to come up with your own position.
Rod: Yeah, and you know what? Nolan Ryan was the guy that actually changed my whole batting stance.
Rod: Because I used to hold my hands up high and I used to swing as that high fastball that he threw and that I always swing and miss. I struck out about 29 times against Nolan, and I’m number 4 on his list.
Rod: So, I said to myself, “I got to make adjustments and I can’t keep chasing that high fastball because I have never seemed to make contact with.” So for about 2 weeks, I started to take extra batting practice. I sat on a stool that swiveled and I didn’t have a lot of movement. I didn’t come up. I stayed down, kind of kept me down throughout the whole swing. After I did that, the next time I faced Nolan, I got two hits. And then the next time I faced him, I got two more hits. I batted in the balls [inaudible] and then I hit a line drive up the middle. They came into Minnesota and he got on the mound and he yelled out at me, “Stand up, stand up.” And I said, “No,” He said, “Bring it down.” Because if its fastball, when it was down, was hard but straight. When he was up in the zone, it look like a strike, and then it just took off. By the time you already swung and missed. So, you know, I experimented with different things because as a hitter, I’ve always felt that you’ve got to make adjustments. If you see something that you can make an adjustment with, then you do it. That’s why I had so many… People thought that I had seven or eight batting stances. But my front foot was the key. It was where I placed it and I’d move it around and had a lot of success doing that. I didn’t guess like some guys say, “Oh, you know, I’m going to look for a fastball or I’m going to look for a curveball,” and then they don’t get the pitches that they’re looking for and they made themselves easy out. So, I just sat on the fastball because I know that I’m going to get that fastball and I’m going to be able to do with it. You know, you can’t look for a breaking ball or changeup and then, make an adjustment to the fastball. But if I’m at the fastball, I can always make adjustments working my swing.
John: And you were able then to also read what was going on in the field if they shifted or not and make adjustments in your swing and your stance to make up for what they were…how you saw them trying to shift.
Rod: Yeah. When I was at home plate, I always looked up the middle and sometimes believe it or not. I would see a player, take one or two steps, you know as the pitches come up to the home plate. They were making adjustments in where they thought I would hit that pitch because they were getting signs from the catcher and also from the pitcher what pitch they were going to throw at that time. So it was amazing that I could just focus up in the middle and see these guys taking a step or two and then I’ll hit the ball where they were actually playing but just out of their reach. So those are the adjustments and things that you have to think about being a hitter. I just hated walking back to the bench after a struck out and that’s the longest walk that you can take on the baseball field. So I tried not to walk back to that dugout too many times.
John: Before we go on to some very serious chapters in this book and this book is just amazing. Again, Rod Carew’s “One Tough Out”. I recommend it. If you love sports or by the way, if you love people, this is the book to read, “One Tough Out.” One of my favorite books of the last 5 years. I’m going to tell you won’t be disappointed. The Rod’s impact on way beyond baseball and we’re going to talk about that in a second. You know, Rod, I heard when I was doing my homework, not in the book, of course, but when I was doing my homework on you that you actually didn’t make your high school basketball team. How was that possible for such a great athlete? How is that even possible?
Rod: Well, I came from Panama and my primary language is Spanish so my grandmother told me, “You got to belong to all of these English clubs so that when you speak English, you allow people to understand you and understand what you’re saying. You gotta join this club at school, this club after school.” She had 3 or 4 of them. I went to the classes and believe it or not, there were a lot of foreign kids that went to those classes. So I wasn’t allowed to play baseball for the first 2 years that I came from Panama. So when she saw that I was improving in my language skills, she allowed me to go out my senior year. So I went out and the first workout, I thought I did pretty good but the coach told me I was not good enough to play on the team. So I said, “Okay.” So this buddy of mine that was on the team also played Sandlot baseball on the weekends in Crotona Park, Central Park, and all over the city. So he took me out with him and I introduced myself to the manager. He took a look at me and he says, “Okay, we’ll give you a shot.” So I started playing with the team. The guy’s name was Sam Commando who I really got along with. Really wild and who taught me a lot about playing the game. The buddy of mine’s Dad was more of a bird dog scout for the Twins because the guy that really signed me worked as a Transit Authority Guide in the subways. Then he started coming out or watching me. Both of those guys were such a big part of my learning and growing up and getting the opportunity to sign or the Twins.
John: When you think back on your amazing career, if we were just to change for a second and say, “Okay, Rod, you could have been… If you had a choice outside of baseball with your same talent ability to play either in the NBA or NFL. What do you enjoy more? Do you enjoy basketball, more or do you enjoy football more? Do you enjoy them both the same?
Rod: Well, it’s funny because I used to be a pretty good soccer player when I was growing up in Panama.
John: Oh, okay.
Rod: And then my uncle was in charge of the physical education part of the school. So once he saw me play baseball, he says, “Okay, no more soccer.” So that’s how it turned out.
John: Got it. But I want to cover now some of the very important and serious topics in the book. Beyond baseball, of course. You had this Hall of Fame career which as you were told and as you repeat in the book, you were welcome to the Greatest Fraternity in the World by over 90% of the sportswriters that vote in. What an honor and all that great stuff. But when your daughter Michelle was diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia, you got involved. You were already very close with her. She was already your youngest and you took on a very important role with her diagnosis of leukemia. You want to share what happened because it’s beautifully described in the book, but I would love you in your own words to describe the experience on how you changed your approach from being a private and insular person to being a much more accessible public figure in the wake of her tragic illness and then passing.
Rod: Well. It was all about what she told me. When we checked her into the hospital, Children’s Hospital, she saw all these kids running up and down the hallway with their balls. They were kicking soccer balls, having hockey sticks, playing different sports, and having a good time. She looked at me and she says, “Dad, I know that you don’t get along with the Press really well but I want you to open up and not only help me but help the other kids that were running around.” So, I promised her that I would. I remember going down the elevator one day where there was a couple and their 6-year-old daughter. I said “hello.” She says, “Hello.” Then she looked at me and she says in Spanish, [non-English] which means “God is going to kill me”. Because she had some disease. I said, “No. God is going to take care of these . He’s going to make you better.” When I said that the elevator hit the floor and she gave me his big smile. I went into the gift shop to get something for my daughter. That just changed my whole outlook, that I have to do something else besides just playing baseball. I have to be more in tune with what’s going on, with other people’s lives. That was a big difference right there.
John: Well, let’s break it down because I really want our viewers and listeners to hear the tremendous impact that you made with Michelle. Both during her life after she was diagnosed and then after her passing. She was the one who encouraged you to speak up and use your platform, which you did. But the real crisis came down with her leukemia diagnosis. She needed a bone marrow match and because of her unique, ethnic genetic makeup, part Panamanian part Russian-Jewish black that then, when you looked at the donor match list which then was only 90,000 people or so who’s on that list, you couldn’t find any matches for her bone marrow. Is that the crux of the issue?
Rod: Right. We couldn’t and her sisters or my ex-wife didn’t match. So then we set out to try and get more people involved in the donor match and it went from the figures that you just said to about 2 and a half million people. People were calling and coming in. They wanted to help Michelle. What’s amazing is I know that it wasn’t because I was Rod Carew. It’s because I was just a dad trying to help his daughter out and in turn help a lot more kids that were waiting and couldn’t find matches. They were waiting for some way to save their lives.
John: Well, beyond that. Yes, you did, but she did a bunch of interviews with some of your local sportswriters’ friends from the LA Times. You did a bunch plus the media came out. So you took it from 90,000 upon her diagnosis to then 2 and a half million when she passed. You had a beautiful line in the book, “When she went to sleep, she woke up the world.” When you wrote this book, the numbers that I tracked back are nowadays, over 20 million people on the national donor list because of you and your platform. How you took her words of doing more with that platform that you earned and made an impact on so many people’s lives. That impact will continue to reverberate for decades and lifetimes ahead of us. Nowadays, over 20 million people compared to the 90,000 when she was first diagnosed. That’s a miracle.
Rod: Yeah, it is. We thanked everyone because as I said before, it’s not because I was Rod Carew the baseball player, it’s because it’s Rod Carew the guy whose daughter is sick and he’s trying to help her but also helped so many of the kids that were suffering from leukemia and these different blood diseases. I enjoyed it and I told her. I said, “Honey, I will always work with the kids until the day that I am not able to or to the day that I’m not here on this earth.” So I started doing a lot of things. I have a golf tournament that’s been going on for about 25 years and it’s because of Michelle. We’ve had a lot of kids that we saved, a lot of kids that we’ve lost but we’ve seen kids who had dreams of going to college and stuff like that. They were being able to get better and given the chance to go to college and possibly realize their dreams. Because we’re all dreamers. We dream of what we want to do and how we can do it. I’m happy that she talked me into doing this. Many families thank me over the years and I appreciate that.
John: By the way, these tens of thousands of families haven’t had the opportunity to thank you but so many have been affected positively because of you and Michelle and what you’ve done. Twenty million people on that list now give you so much hope a child is now diagnosed with that horrific disease. I mean, what a great thing you both did. What a great thing. Amazing.
Rod: We’re sure to continue to save lives.
Rod: Which is the key because it’s like growing up in Panama. My dream was to be a major league baseball player and that’s how I carried myself even though I was an abused child by my dad. I said to myself that maybe baseball would get me someplace and allow me to help other people. Like my mom used to tell me, “God’s in your pocket. He’s going to follow you. He’s going to take care of you,” and He sure has.
John: After Michelle’s passing things change a little bit in your life and you remarried and you took up golf which wasn’t really a part of your life while in the midst of your career. If I read right, I mean, it’s just incredible. You were a latecomer to golf but you have in the book, it talked about… You have 6 Aces or do you have more than that now?
Rod: No, I have 7.
John: Seven aces?
Rod: You know the first time I played, my Manager Jean-Marc gave me a brand-new set of [inaudible] clubs. The first day I went out was with Blyleven and some of the other guys. We were playing at this course that you have to hit the ball straight. If not, you’re going to end up in water or you’re going to end up in the trees. So my first swing of the club, I slice the ball and there’s running water along the freeway that I ended up in. Then they say, “Come on. Hit another one.” So I did another one and I sliced it to the same spot. So then I put my club back in my bag and I got on the cart. I went over to that area where the ball went and there’s flown water along the freeway and I took my bag up, I took the club, out of the cart, throw it in the water. [laughter] Now I said, “You know I have enough trouble playing with this little white ball at night, that this little white ball is not going to drive me crazy.” I got involved again playing with some buddies and the only guys I ever played with are friends that I met. That’s the only time I would play. I never went off with other people and play. But I started to enjoy it because it was so much about concentration and stuff like that. I have fun. I haven’t played in the last 6 years after I had my heart transplant but I’m looking forward to playing again.
John: Do you still have your tournament?
Rod: Yes. The tournament, we just finished their 25th year this past year. I’ve only missed one when I was in the hospital and it was funny because I kept telling the doctors, “Can you let me out for the day? I’ve got this tournament that I have to be at.” Yeah. And they kept saying, “No, because we’re afraid you might not come back.” Somebody came in to see me about 3 weeks later to see me and they were talking about the tournament. The doctor was in there and he says, “You really had a tournament?” I said, “Yes, this guy has played in a tournament for about 20 years.” He just started laughing. Yeah, we just finished the 25th year. We’ve had the same people that’s been coming back and playing. We don’t have athletes that come and make an appearance or anything. Every year, we bring in about 285 people to play in the tournament. So it’s still going strong.
John: Before we move on to your work with the American Heart Association and incredible story with regards to your heart attack. What? One second.
John: We lost the picture for a second. I think we need to get the picture back up. We got it. Got it. Perfect. Before we get talking about your heart attack and the incredible story of recovery. Rod, how if people want to help the cause that you’ve been speaking about, for now, many, many years, over two decades with regards to Michelle and being a match and being a donor. How can they help or become part of that group and help support all the great work you’ve done to increase the number of people on the national donor list?
Rod: Well, they can go on the internet and look for PCRF, which is the Children’s Cancer Group and get all the information they need and help us.
John: Got it. Perfect. So it’s 2015, you are in reasonably great shape because you typically would always stay in good shape in your whole career and post-career in baseball. In fact, the night before you had a wonderful night. I believe you got up on stage with some of your friends when they were singing and having fun covering some great songs. You got up and I think you’re singing Oye Como Va or something the night before. The next day you went out to the golf course and you take it from there.
Rod: Well, we were doing a Leukemia Lymphoma March around Angel Stadium. That is something that I got involved with with one of the Vice Presidents. I was his sports star then to help. This one night, this friend of mine who has a band and they’re all ex-officers. He was in playing in the band and he asked me to come up on stage and join him. When I didn’t he gave me the maracas and he says, “We’re going to sing this one song that I knew a few words. So I got up there and I was really enjoying myself and dancing around. Then I got tired and I say, “You guys continue playing.” So I went down and talk to people and welcome them to the event that we were doing. The next morning after I went home, the next morning I got up at about 5:00 and decided I wanted to play golf. I was going out by myself. So on the first hole, the first ball that I hit was down in the middle. I was surprised because every time, for the first ball, I use to go to the left or to the right. That was my military golf days when that happened. So I started to put my club back in my bag and then I had a little bit of a burn going down to the middle of my chest and then my hands were really [inaudible] So I said, “Hmm.” So this buddy of mine who had told me about 3 weeks prior that he was in Vegas and he was playing craps and he was winning. Then all of a sudden he felt this burn in his chest and he says, “If you feel anything in your chest, go to the doctor.” What he did was he left the crap table and went up to the hotel doctor and found out that he had a 90-plus…
Rod: … yeah, blockage. They told him that when he got back home, make sure he sees a cardiologist. So I remembered that and I backed my car back up to hole number one which is really close to the clubhouse. I walked in and I asked the lady if she could please call paramedics because I think there was something going on with my chest. She did and they came and they lost me. The first time, they lost… so then they brought me back.
John: You flatlined. You literally flatlined.
Rod: I flatlined, right. So, I flatlined again when I was just laying there while they were working on me. The amazing thing is when Michelle was in the hospital I used to lay in bed with her and we do crossword puzzles. So she would say to me, “Dad, my guardian angel is right over in the corner. You can’t see him but I can. He’s sitting and He got this light that goes around Him and He got his hands like He’s praying.” So I said to myself, “Okay.” I know she’s been here for a while and she’s been on these different drugs and stuff. I thought that’s what she was imagining. But when the paramedics were with me at the golf course, one of them had a light that was going around his body and his head and shoulders had come back down by his arms. So then I said, “Hmm. That’s my guardian angel.” And that’s the same thing that Michelle saw.
John: You had a similar experience.
Rod: Yes. Yes. So they loaded me up into the ambulance and as I’m going to the hospital, they lost me again. They brought me back and when we got to the hospital, on the way to the operating room, they lost me again, and then they brought me back. So I said and my mother said, “You have God in your pocket.” So I guess he’s in there and he keeps tapping you and he’s not ready for you yet. I had a massive heart attack, yeah, and massive heart attack…
John: What is called the widow maker, right? You had the widow maker.
Rod: The widow maker, yeah. Usually, you don’t come back from those but God was in my pocket.
John: What happened? Who hooked you up to this massive contraption. How did that go?
Rod: Well, I was still struggling. So they kept me in the hospital for about a week and then they discharged me and they told my wife to make an appointment to see a cardiologist because we were planning and going to Italy. They told us, “Yeah, you’ll be able to. Just take it easy and you’ll be able to make your trip.” When we went to the Cardiologist on Monday, he said, “You don’t look too good. You’re going to go back over to the emergency.” I went back over, so they transferred me to San Diego and that’s where I spent… Gosh, I don’t know all the time before I had my heart transplant and kidney transplant at the same time.
John: But before you got your heart and kidney transplant, they put in a machine into an LCD or…?
Rod: LVAD. An LVAD.
Rod: Yeah. That kept me alive for about 14 months. The battery started to wear and I needed to get a heart transplant plan within the next 5 or 6 days. So, this young man that I met when he was about 10 went to preschool, where my son went. He was out running around and I went there to watch a basketball game. So he run up to me and said, ” You are Rod Carew, right?” I said, “Yeah?” He said, “When I grow up, I want to be an athlete.” “That is good but make sure that you’re studying and you have good grades in school. He said, “Oh, l I have good grades but I’m going to be an athlete when I grow up.” I haven’t seen this kid I think for maybe 20 years but he grew up and went to Stanford. After he graduated he was with I think the Jets and then they let him go and he was with the Ravens. He was also waiting to possibly sign a contract with the Patriots. So, while working out he heard something pop in his neck and his Dad told him to go to the emergency room right away. He comes to find out he had an aneurysm. So they lost him and at the funeral, I guess, people were talking about Rod Carew is having some heart problems and he needs a new heart. His mom heard about it, contacted my wife and so she said she wanted to make sure that her son’s heart went to a good person. So they thought of me and I received his heart and a kidney.
John: Now, a couple of things. A, it was really through the National Donor Society where he had filled out on his driver’s license that he would donate his organs as his mom and dad checked on their driver’s license. He asked them for guidance. They said, “Yeah, we did it. If you want to do it, it’s a nice thing. That’s 7 months prior that he had checked that box, right? On his DMV.
Rod: Right. Yeah. He was able to get the advice from her parents that you do it yourself.
John: Right. And they really didn’t have any part of the decision as to where the organs went. It was really the match program. So it was just one of those as you said in the book, “There are lots of God’s winks in your book about the tapestry of your life evolve.” And that’s just one of them because really the parents had no say so where those organs were going. This was after the fact that they started learning and putting the pieces together with your wife on how both your lives reconnected. Right?
Rod: Right. Yes. Sure enough.
Rod: I thanked him ever since I was given a second chance at life and I carry him around with me every single day. I was able to also get a kidney from him and it’s amazing how things work out. Do you know? You hate for someone to die so you can live but I guess that’s part of the way God had it planned. So I thank him every day.
John: I want to talk about that in a second. As you said in the book, your big mechanical device that was keeping you going for 14 months started to not really have its effect anymore, you got this call and you said that call maybe was better than the call from Cooperstown.
Rod: Oh, yes, definitely. Yeah. You’ve worked out so hard to stay alive and make a life and trying to continue doing good things and here’s a great thing that’s happening to you now and God was in my pocket again. He’s been there and he stayed there.
John: As you said, He spared you for a reason and I want to talk a little bit about that reason now. Well, first of all, before we talk about Konrad Reuland, talk a little bit about another wink. I got one another God’s winks, Konrad Reuland. You were one of his heroes that he actually got to meet and touch and inspired you. When he passed away, he actually was 29 years old which was your number throughout your career. Another wink.
Rod: Another wink.
John: Another wink.
Rod: And you know? It’s funny because everyone thinks that I’m the same age as I should be but I’ve taken some years off. Knowing that when I got the heart, he was 29. So I figured, what the heck? It’s amazing. It’s just amazing. The occurrences that we faced. After I had the transplant, the first thing I said to my wife is, “Guess what, Honey? God has given me a second life so we can continue to help other people.” And sure enough, we’ve continued doing that. Whenever we get a call to go someplace because of something having to do with heart problems, we just drop everything and go. Because heart disease is one of the main things that take lives in this country. So, we are happy that we can do our part and help them.
John: As your Pastor, Rick Warren says, “If you’re alive, there’s a purpose for your life.” Obviously, you’re living your purpose. Again, for our viewers and listeners. It’s Rod Carew’s book, One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs. You can buy it on RodCarew.com and you can also find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other great bookstores. So now you have Konrad’s heart and kidney and Mary Reuland her husband, Carl, who happens to be a doctor wanted to meet you and your wife and your family. How was that? I watched the video. I watched that video way before I ever knew I was never going to have this chance to interview you. I’ll tell you, I don’t think I even took three breaths during that whole video of “Heart of 29”. Talk a little bit about them wanting to meet you about 11 weeks after that transplant and what happened that day and how it all evolved.
Rod: Well, my wife and his mom set up an appointment for us to go over to his home. I think that the thing that really came to me was when she wanted to hear her son’s heartbeat. I told her and said, “Mary, anytime you want to do that. I’ll be right there. I’ll be on call.” So she put her head on my chest and listened to his heartbeat. She says, “Yeah, that’s it.” Then we try to make it taped to put in a doll so that we could give it to her as a present. So whenever she got the urge, we’ll do that.
John: Wow. But way beyond that, you guys Carl and Mary, and you and your wonderful wife, Rhonda, become good friends. There’s even a merger of the names that came together. Talked about that.
Rod: We put them together. We feel they’re part of our family.
John: And you’re both theirs.
Rod: Yeah. We just felt that it was something I had to do.
John: I mean, their name was Konrad Reuland and I think you came up with, or they came up with, or you both came up with Kreuland.
John: That’s a big thing.
Rod: We made a big sign that we keep in our home.
John: That’s wonderful.
Rod: That’s a part of the history of what we went through with the family.
John: And so, Rod, I know you’ve become great friends with the Reuland’s and even your grandchildren and all friends. You have a lot and [inaudible] friends. So that’s all. It’s a wonderful way to continue the life and the legacy of both you and Konrad together with now, the two families coming together.
Rod: Yes, it is. I guess it was meant to be.
Rod: We’re just happy that we can maintain our friendship and relationship and life goes on.
John: Well, Rod, I just want to thank you for spending time with us today. As you said, you’re living proof of your life’s purpose which is improving the lives of others. You’ve lived up to Jackie Robinson’s quote of making an impact. What a life well-lived and God bless you and your whole family. As you said, “You have to have a lot more years.” Now, you have a 29-year-old heart in you, Rod.
Rod: I hope.
John: This is good news for all the people that love you. Like me. Again, please, Rod Carew, One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs. Support both the donor match, National Donor Society in terms of matching up and becoming a donor for bone marrow transplants, and people who need help like his daughter Michelle. Also the American Heart Association. Get your heart checked and donate to Heart of the 29 and all the other great organizations that Rod’s involved in. Rod Carew, you’re an amazing man. The people that have followed you throughout your career like me now love you for what you did in baseball and how you carried yourself. But the massive impact, how you’ve improved people’s lives after your career is beyond amazing. I just wish you so many more decades of a happy and healthy life with your family. God bless you and all that you’ve done for all of us. Thank you again Rod Carew for your time today.
Rod: Thank you for having me on and popping me to spread to word, “Get your heart checked.” It’s the number one killer in this country. So I just hope that people will listen because it’s so important.
John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit LetsEngage.com