Bob Costas, 63, has worked in so many capacities in so many different sports that it’s hard to keep track. Among his most recent efforts: He’s the host of an MLB Network Presents special titled “Rod Carew: The Fight of His Life,” featuring an in-depth interview with Carew following his serious heart attack in September. The Carew special will air for the first time at 8 p.m. Tuesday on the MLB Network. In advance, Costas chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q Rod Carew can be a private person. How were you able to get the access and get him to open up?
A I think part of it is the stage of life. He had a nearly fatal heart attack, and that reminds you of your own mortality. And his own life story includes the tragic death of his daughter, Michelle, when she was just 18. I did an interview at that time, 20 years ago, when he was desperately trying to find a bone marrow donor to match Michelle. Rod and I have a relationship that goes back a long time. We’ve spoken about baseball and his family circumstances. … I think he knew he could trust us at MLBN to render the story appropriately.
Q You were, I believe, 17 when Carew won his first batting title. Is he one of those players from your early adulthood that stands out above the pack?
A Yes, and when I became a broadcaster after college. I even called a game in the 1980s with Tony Kubek in which Rod played, and by then he was with the Angels. He was one of those players who wasn’t just excellent when you look at the statistics, but he was distinctive. The way he held the bat, his stance — multiple stances. Some guys change from year to year or week to week, he changed from at-bat to at-bat. And the way he could almost direct a baseball. … Most of our conversation was about his health circumstances, but we couldn’t not talk about baseball. One thing we talked about was I said, “I’d like to see teams try some of these shifts on you. You’d hit .500.”
Q Carew and the Twins parted ways with some acrimony before the 1979 season, but the special has a lot of footage from TwinsFest this year — and it seemed like the embrace from fans was strong. Did you sense that?
A When fans look back, they know that not only was Carew excellent, but he conducted himself in the way you’d hope someone would conduct himself as a public figure and a ballplayer. And now on top of it, he’s fighting a health circumstance. So I think bygones have long since been bygones.
Q What’s your biggest takeaway from the time you spent with him?
A There are two things, maybe three. One, how optimistic he is. He’s optimistic and grateful. Gratitude is a healthy emotion. He feels grateful for the care he’s received, the outpouring not just from friends but from people he’s never met. Another thing is his wife Rhonda is extremely loving and supportive. … He’s come to accept that at least for a while he has to let others care for him. And the last thing is that I get from him a sense of quiet pride. Not conceit, not at all. Quiet, humble pride. If it’s possible to be humble but in a dignified way be proud of your baseball career, that’s what he is. He’s a sharp baseball mind. We talked about stealing home, why you do it, why it’s a lost art. He likes to talk baseball. He’s still engaged.