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OC Register: Fred Claire, Rod Carew turn cancer charity into a baseball family affair

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GLENDALE — So many baseball men in khakis and collared shirts strolled the grounds of Oakmont Country Club on Monday, you would be tempted to think this is what they do in retirement: golf. You would only be half right.

There was Eddie Murray, the Hall of Fame first baseman.

There was Charlie Hough and Orel Hershiser and Shawn Green.

On this day, all of them were volunteers for City of Hope, a cancer treatment center in Duarte. Last year, City of Hope became a personal cause for former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire, who battled cancer that started on his lip and spread around his face. He’s doing better now thanks for City of Hope, the legendary pep in his step seemingly unaffected by months of treatment.

To return the favor to City of Hope, Claire asked for a little help from his friends. He also lent his name to the newly christened Fred Claire Celebrity Golf Classic fundraiser. Turns out, Fred Claire has a lot of friends in baseball.

“If you didn’t know Fred Claire,” Rod Carew said, “you didn’t know anyone.”

Carew was the face of the Angels from 1979-85, the final seven seasons of his Hall of Fame career. Claire was the Dodgers’ general manager from 1987-98. They were so strongly associated with the separate franchises, it might be hard to imagine them playing for the same team. But only for a minute.

At the conclusion of the golf tournament, Claire presented Carew with the inaugural Celebration of Life award Monday. At this stage in life – Claire is 81, Carew 71 – life is absolutely cause for celebration.

“If you don’t know the story,” Claire said before presenting a trophy to Carew, “you need to look it up.”

Carew was on a golf course, of all places, when his heart gave out in September 2015. If the heart attack had struck when Carew was even two holes into his round, he believes he might not have made it. But Carew was on the first hole, by himself, when another golfer found the Hall of Famer fighting for his life. The quick response saved him.

So did Konrad Reuland. A football player at Stanford and the NFL, Reuland suffered a brain aneursym at age 29 that claimed his life. Reuland was a registered organ donor, and his heart went to Carew. The transplant took place in December.

“The first thing I said to (my wife) Rhonda when I got out of intensive care was ‘honey, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ And that work entails trying to go out, spread the word, talk to people, get your hearts checked, eat right, take care of your body,” Carew said. “That was the most important thing because I think my friend upstairs gave me another opportunity to continue his work.”

Claire can relate. Since his brush with cancer, he has become a vocal advocate for protecting one’s skin from the sun.

City of Hope offered another point of bonding for the two men. Carew lost his daughter Michelle to leukemia when she was just 18 years old. He’s made many trips to Duarte himself. He wanted to give back, too.

“I still have some friends that go there from pediatric cancer group that they’re trying to stay alive,” he said. “That’s the best place to go.”

The baseball connection to City of Hope runs even deeper. Dr. Stephen Forman, an immunotherapy specialist at the hospital, was Don Baylor’s personal physician for 14 years. The former Angels player and coach lost his own battle with multiple myeloma at age 68 last Monday.

“I never had a tougher patient,” Forman said.

Forman is a Dodger fan. He doesn’t merely treat his patients so they can go back to their normal lives.

“What we like to say is, we like to get them well so they can go to a baseball game,” he said, “because that for us, is sort of a metaphor for regular life: a baseball game. It’s about family.”

That sounds cliché, but Monday’s tournament lived it out: retired players from different teams, at different stages of life, doing a lot more than golfing.

“We have to help others,” Carew said. “I hope that some of the young players today understand that. It’s not about them. The man upstairs gave them that ability to play, and play consistently, but he also wants them to open their hearts and understand that people need their help.”

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