The Legacy of Rod Carew

Baseball legend Rod Carew published a new memoir, One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs (2020). His life story hits it out of the park, with luck, talent and faith he went from poverty-stricken beginnings in Panama to a stellar career in the major leagues. For me growing up in Minnesota, his name was synonymous with baseball.

Rod Carew 1975 Photo: Rick Dikeman

I remember the WCCO radio announcer yelling his name, usually his full name because it was so short. “It’s Rod Carew! He’s stealing third…” I saw Carew play a couple of games in the old Metropolitan stadium. He made each inning fun to watch, never knew if #29 would bunt or hit, run or steal.

At that time I didn’t know the long and difficult road that took him from childhood with a brutal father in Panama to life without him in New York with his mother, from New York to the minor leagues, and from there to the Twins 1967-1978. Even though Rod Carew didn’t like to speak with reporters, those years he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, he was on the cover of Time Magazine as baseball’s best hitter, Carew was an important part of the Twins. From his batting, it was evident he never stopped practicing. In his memoir Carew talks about keeping a notebook of every pitch he encountered; which inning, what level, where on the plate, and the results. He studied the game closely and earned his accolades.

In 1979, Carew moved West to play for the California Angels after the Twin’s owner made a racist comment at a Lion’s Club speech. Carew played for the Angels 1979-1985. In 1983, Rod Carew was on the cover of Sports Illustrated; .400 “Rod Carew is at it again.” To this day, Carew is the only player to have his number (#29) retired from two AL teams. After retiring, he worked as a batting coach for the Angels and a talent scout in Latin America.

Rod Carew’s over 3000 hits, seven batting titles for the American League, and election to the Baseball Hall of Fame are great achievements, but not the only good deeds for which he’s earned a reputation.

When his family was struck with illness in the 90s, Rod Carew became more outgoing and less media shy as a result.

Two health crises profoundly affected his life:

  1. Sadly, his youngest daughter died of leukemia in 1996, because they could not find a bone marrow match to help her. Carew has used his fame to promote a bone marrow transplant donor bank registry, called Be The Match. His outreach added an additional 70,000 donors to the list. He helps the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation as well. He has raised $3 million dollars for the latter through his Rod Carew Children’s Cancer Golf Classic.
  2. After his heart attack in 2015, the baseball star promoted heart health awareness for the American Heart Association in the “Heart of 29” campaign (his jersey number). In 2017, he received a heart and kidney transplant. Carew participates yearly in The Twin Cities’ Heart Walk, which in 2020 raised $1.5 million dollars.

Rod Carew is a national hero in his birthplace of Panama. In Panama City since 2004, the main baseball stadium is the Estadio Rod Carew. He was the first Panamanian in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I hadn’t realized he did not give up his Panamanian citizenship. Carew is a permanent resident of the United States.

This October, Rod Carew will be 75 years old. I respect his baseball record and legacy very much. How he uses his name recognition in his current focus on health I admire even more.

Which sports hero was a household word when you were growing up?

Gracias for reading and commenting on Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! -Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

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