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As a major leaguer, he appeared in two World Series and an All-Star Game, but it's what former Boston Red Sox second baseman Mike Andrews has done during his 30 years at Dana-Farber that he feels best defines him.
Here, the Jimmy Fund chairman reflects on his experiences in baseball and as an advocate for improved cancer care and research.
How would you describe cancer as an opposing pitcher?
Ruthless. Will knock you down every chance it has. Throws at your head. No pity. Tries to kill you.
What brought you here?
I knew about the special relationship between the Jimmy Fund and the Red Sox, and had met with Dana-Farber patients through the years. Talking to a kid and then finding out there was nothing that could be done to save him made me quickly realize that a hitless day at the plate doesn't mean much.
When [then-Red Sox broadcaster and Jimmy Fund Chairman] Ken Coleman asked me after my playing days if I wanted to help him out, I was at the right place at the right time.
Most professional athletes get to the end of their careers and they say, "OK, what am I going to do now?" They have no experience other than sports, and never find something to take its place. I did – and, in my case, my second career surpassed my first.
How would you like to be remembered – as a ballplayer or Jimmy Fund chairman?
Jimmy Fund chairman, hands down. Baseball is a game, even when you're making a living at it. This is about life and death – and saving lives. It's so much more important. I wish every player could be as lucky as me, to get the opportunity I did.
And I hope this will be my legacy – that I helped take a grassroots fundraising program that was a very small piece of what was going on at Dana-Farber and helped build it into a big part of the Institute's mission.
What skills did you bring from sports to your Dana-Farber job?
As a ballplayer, I came across everybody you could imagine – presidents, CEOs – all of them dying to meet us. I got to see these people in a different light, so the intimidation factor was never there for me.
Having most people know who you are gives you the confidence you can talk to anyone, and that attitude carried over when I came to Dana-Farber. The most powerful man in Boston still puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like I do.
Did you think you would stay here 30 years?
If you'd asked me that when I first started, my reaction would have been no, because I figured we would have cured this thing by now. Obviously that hasn't happened yet. But there came a time, very early in my career here, when I knew I didn't want to be anywhere else.
Is there any one moment in your work at the Jimmy Fund that is particularly memorable?
No, there are just so many of them, and new ones are popping up all the time. Finding the original "Jimmy" was great, of course, and traveling around with him. Watching the response people had to him was incredible. It was like he was Elvis. And when Ted Williams met Jimmy, that was certainly a wonderful moment.
At the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon, I can just sit there and listen to the stories from the patients and their families, and each is more powerful than the last. I wouldn't be able to pick an All-Star team of patients or celebrities from our lineup of volunteers. They're all great.
Do any celebrity stories or visits stand out?
When [former Red Sox pitcher] Bob Stanley brought in his jersey for the young boy who had the same cancer Stanley's own son had survived – and at around the same age – that was powerful. The kid wasn't talking to anybody, but after Bob came in he couldn't stop telling people about it.
When Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield literally put that kid on his back last year to carry him down to meet with other players, that was incredible.
I was on the '67 Sox team that voted a World Series share to the Jimmy Fund. I didn't think we were doing anything marvelous at the time. It was just what everybody agreed on. I think Yaz stood up and suggested it, and we all said "Great."
The Red Sox-Jimmy Fund relationship is so ingrained in the minds of so many people, it's a very powerful thing. Red Sox Nation extends far beyond New England, and we reach out to every state in the nation during our radio-telethon.
We used to have to drive to all these little radio stations throughout New England to get the word out. Now, they all hear us over two days. People are listening to WEEI and watching NESN outside of the games more than they ever did before, because they are so focused on baseball here.
Any thoughts on legendary Dana-Farber fundraiser Ted Williams?
He had the most dynamic personality of any individual I ever met. If there were four presidents in a room and Ted walked in, all eyes turned to him. He was overpowering, but could also be quiet and kind. I heard he came in to Dana-Farber once and was talking with a boy who grabbed his hand and wouldn't let go. Ted had them bring a chair over, and he sat there all night holding the boy's hand. I don't know if it's true; Ted wouldn't have admitted it.
What are the biggest changes you've seen here?
When I look at where Dana-Farber was then, in terms of recovery rates and treatment methods, and where we are now, it's a great motivator. We still have a long way to go, and we still lose too many people. But we've made great strides.
What's it like to hit a home run over Fenway Park's Green Monster?
Wonderful. I [batted] leadoff a lot, so I wasn't usually trying to hit home runs. But it's very nice to be able to run around the bases and know that you don't have to stop until you get in the dugout. I didn't hit too many, so I enjoyed them.
How would you compare playing on the field with what goes on at Dana-Farber?
There is no comparison. Baseball is nothing like what I get to see here. I wonder sometimes why we idolize athletes and entertainers. The doctors, the nurses, the researchers who spend all night in the lab looking for cures and never turn out the lights – those are your All-Stars.
Fall/Winter 2009 Table of Contents