Any doubt that the Twin Cities has a special place in baseball player Rod Carew’s heart will be erased upon learning that he brought his daughter, Michelle, back to Minneapolis to be buried after her death from leukemia in 1996 at age 18.
Although born in Minnesota, she was just a baby when Carew left for Southern California after joining the Angels in 1979.
In the Orange County, Calif., hospital where she died, she often expressed her desire to see it snow, never having experienced it growing up.
In his autobiography “One Tough Out: Fighting Off Life’s Curveballs,” Carew recounts the burial at United Hebrew Brotherhood Cemetery in Richfield, where Twins legends Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett were pallbearers:
“She wore one of her favorite T-shirts. It was purple, her favorite color. Those small gestures meant a lot to us. But it was nothing compared with what happened during the burial. It snowed. Not heavy and not for very long, just enough for everyone to absorb the power of the moment. I looked up to the heavens and thought, ‘Now she is at peace.’ ”
The book, written in first person with Jaime Aron, starts with his upbringing in Panama and really takes off after Carew details how he broke into the majors after moving to New York City in part to elude an abusive father.
Cut from his high school team in the Washington Heights neighborhood near Yankee Stadium, Carew tried out for a sand lot team. A Twins “bird dog” scout, Monroe Katz, saw him play and tipped off an official Twins scout, Herb Stein, who in turn notified Hal Keller, head of the farm system.
Keller arranged an on-field tryout the next time Minnesota came to the Bronx to play the Yankees. They suited the 18-year-old in Oliva’s uniform and let him take batting practice. In his first two series of five at-bats, he clouted four home runs over the right-center fence.
“Two swings into my third round,” Carew writes, “Twins manager Sam Mele had seen enough. He came running over and said, ‘Get that kid out of there!’ He sent me out to second base to field some grounders before the Yankees figured out what was going on.”
Mele was worried that the Yankees would discover this talent who lived in their backyard and make him an offer. Instead, at midnight on June 25, 1964, one day after Carew’s high school graduation, the Twins signed him for a $5,000 bonus and a $400 monthly salary and sent him to a rookie league in Florida.
The book is roughly split into two parts: his playing days, and his post-career dealing with the sickness of his daughter and his own heart problems, which culminated with a heart transplant.
It’s a must-read for Twins fans and baseball and Minneapolis historians. First-person accounts of All-Star seasons, meeting Jackie Robinson, and the daily grind with teammates Oliva and Harmon Killebrew are fascinating.
Carew recounts that June 26, 1977 — Rod Carew Jersey Day at Metropolitan Stadium — was his best day in baseball. The biggest crowd ever for a regular-season game, 46,463, came to see Carew chasing .400 with the division lead on the line with the Chicago White Sox.
No. 29 scored five runs, and slugged six RBI and a home run in a 19-12 victory, which included several standing ovations for Carew.
“It resonates primarily from the reaction from the fans,” Carew writes. “The kinship and camaraderie developed over our decade-plus together crystallized in this moment. … Whenever I’m asked my favorite or most memorable day in baseball, the answer is always June 26, 1977.”
He had a sort of love-hate relationship with Twins owner Calvin Griffith, who, speaking at a Lions Club dinner in Waseca on the Thursday before the 1978 season ended, said Carew was “a damn fool” for playing for $170,000.
Carew nearly quit on the spot upon hearing the remarks, but instead signed with the Angels at the end of the season for $4 million and became the highest-paid player in baseball.
Yet, at his 1991 induction speech into the Baseball Hall of Fame (he received 90% of the baseball writers’ votes on his first year of eligibility), one of the first people he thanked in addition to his mom, the scout Stein and manager Billy Martin was Griffith, for his “patience and confidence” in him when others in the organization didn’t think he was ready to make the jump to the big leagues.
With its heartbreaking description of his daughter’s battle and death, and his own struggles with heart disease, Carew, now 74, puts a human touch into the book that extends beyond baseball and sports.
One Tough Out
By: Rod Carew, with Jaime Aron.
Publisher: Triumph Books, 312 pages, $26.95.