Rod Carew needs a new heart

Rod Carew is 70, a fact that’s a cold bucket of water in the face for baseball fans who idolized the Minnesota Twins and California Angels hitter, one of the best pure hitters in the history of baseball.

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that his health is in peril, and yet it does. If there’s one thing you could count on from Rod Carew, it’s a big heart.

Sports Illustrated revealed today that Carew needs a new one after suffering a massive heart attack while golfing in September.

He woke up in the ER to shouts of “Don’t lose him!”

So he closed his eyes.

“I decided to go to sleep,” he tells SI. “And I didn’t know if I’d wake up.”

He spent seven weeks in five hospitals. And he’ll die without a new heart.

Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew tears up along with his daughter Michelle while she receives an umbilical cord blood transplant at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif., on Friday, March 22, 1996. She died a few weeks later. Michael Caulfield | AP

Some people have more than earned the right to say “why me?” Carew is one of them.

“But you can’t say that,” he said. “I go back to when my youngest daughter was dying. I never asked my friend upstairs, Why me? And He’s the only one who has the answers.”

“My son and my wife have been my nurses since all this happened,” he says. “It surprises you about people. My son, Devon, he cleans me up and puts me on the toilet. And I’m thinking, This kid really loves me. He cares about me. My wife does the same thing. Where do people get that sense of wanting to help others in distress?”

“The same place you got it with Michelle,” says Frank Pace.

These simple acts of hygiene have become profound, the embodiment of familial love. When his own father whipped him with a cord as a matter of routine, Carew wondered if he could ever grow up to be a good father himself. Sitting across the room, his son can’t help but hear this.

“You were a good Dad,” says Devon, whose mother, Rhonda, married Carew 14 years ago. “You are a good Dad.”

Devon has seen the public’s love for his father transcend baseball. Carew has been name-checked in songs by the Beastie Boys and Adam Sandler. Frank Pace tells him, “There’s a Rod Carew Drive in Round Rock, Texas,” which comes as news to this Rod Carew, whose ego is not enlarged by such honors. He calls the bronze statue of himself outside Target Field in Minneapolis, “A place for birds to poop.”

Just before his heart attack, Carew was walking near some batting cages in his town when he saw a 7-year old struggling with 70 mph pitches. He suggested to the father that he slow the machine down, to which the father replied, “mind your own business,” SI says.

When it comes to Carew. Hitting and kids are his business.

Early in his career, Carew visited a Minnesota hospital at the insistence of Twins owner Calving Griffith. A 9-year-old boy wanted to meet his hero. “He’d been burned severely,” Carew says. “And when I got there they were scrubbing him. And he was screaming. And when he saw me he said, ‘Don’t get mad at me, Mr. Carew, but it hurts. It hurts.’ The kid was scarred for the rest of his life and he was worried about me hearing him cry. Well, I just turned to the window and started crying.”

After that, he visited children in hospitals whenever he could. In 1977, he won the Roberto Clemente Award as baseball’s exemplar of community service. He has seven silver bats and the 1977 American League Most Valuable Player award, but the Clemente award is the one he shows visitors. “I’m supposed to be this big guy,” he says. “But I cry a lot.” When the Twins traded him to the Angels in 1978, he cried.

Rod Carew needs a new heart. The old one is worthy of a hall of fame, too.

Related: Reusse: After nearly dying, Rod Carew awaits heart transplant (Star Tribune)