PHOTO: Dan Carey (top, center) as part of state champion 1967 Hastings Raiders.
By GENE McGIVERN / St. Thomas Sports Information
Dan Carey wore a lot of hats during his remarkable life.
Literally, as a hard-throwing lefthanded pitcher, he collected a colorful array of baseball caps as he represented the Hastings Spirals (town team) and the Hastings Raiders (high school); the professional Visalia Mets, Pompano Beach Mets, and Memphis Blues; and the amateur Miesville Mudhens.
Figuratively, Carey again wore many hats as he transitioned from baseball into a career as an accomplished University of St. Thomas educator and researcher; a fitness fanatic; an author; and a friendly individual who enjoyed people and life.
His 2011 death at age 61 from a brain tumor is still hard for friends and colleagues to fully believe.
The Dan Carey Fan Club has a reason this week to reminisce and celebrate their friend, brother, teammate, instructor and colleague.
It was 50 years ago in June 1967, seven weeks shy of his 18th birthday, when Carey made history as Minnesota's first prep pitcher taken among the top 25 players in major-league baseball's amateur draft.
The 220-pound lefty traded in his Hastings Raider cap for one with the New York Mets, who selected him 24th overall early in round two of the then-20 team draft. Carey was chosen three spots ahead of fastballer Vida Blue; five ahead of slugger Dave Kingman; and 15 ahead of Don Baylor, who went on to a 19-year major-leaguer career.
In fact, Carey is still the only Minnesota high school pitcher selected in the top 25 since the draft began in 1965. He was the highest Minnesota high schooler taken at any position until 1990 when Edina shortstop Tom Nevers went No. 21 overall.
Cretin-Derham Hall's Chris Schwab (18th in 1993) and Joe Mauer (No. 1 in 2001) are the only other top-25 picks from this state's high-school ranks.
(Native Minnesotans Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Glen Perkins were all picked in top 25, but all at an older age, and out of the University of Minnesota).
This spring, another Minnesota high school pitcher drew unusual pro scouting attention. Righthander Sam Carlson of Burnsville High was eventually selected in round two, No. 55 overall by the Seattle Mariners, in this week's 2017 amateur draft. He is slotted to receive a $1.2 million bonus if he signs with Seattle and passes up a scholarship to Florida.
Fifty years ago, Carey received a $35,000 signing bonus -- estimated to be worth more than $200,000 in today's dollars. Some of that was money for his college education, as he attended the University of Minnesota in the off seasons. Carey used a large chunk of his bonus to pay off his parents' home mortgage, then "splurged" by buying a used 1959 Chevy.
New Kid in Town
Dan's family moved to Hastings when Carey was entering his freshman year of high school. Carey and his five siblings had been living in Crown Point, Ind., where his father, Gene, worked for Standard Oil. Gene Carey was hired at the Pine Bend petroleum refinery just west of Hastings.
While playing freshman football at his new school, Carey was already a 6-1, 195-pounder. A teammate raved at his frame and nicknamed him "Moose," and that moniker stuck.
Carey led Hastings High to the 1967 one-class Minnesota state baseball championship and a final 17-1 record, capped by a 4-0 victory over Austin in the title game. That was Hastings' first official state championship in any sport.
Dan pitched the 4-2 semifinal win over state power Richfield, which was two years removed from its own state championship. Carey and future Tommie baseball captain Mike Hartung were named to the state all-tournament team.
That capped a two-year run that produced a 40-2 record for the Raiders. Dan's older brother Dave threw a no-hitter in the 1966 state tournament finals but it wasn't enough and their team took second place. Bloomington Kennedy -- a school in its first year in existence -- won 2-0 in the title contest as it handed Hastings (23-1) its lone defeat of the season.
Jim "Juice" Johnson, a St. Thomas graduate and baseball player, was Carey's teammate on the Hastings High 1966 runner-up and 1967 state title teams and a lifelong friend. Johnson, said Dan and his brother Dave are regarded as two of the top pitching prospects southern Minnesota has ever produced.
Dave Carey was an All-Big Ten pitcher for the Minnesota Gophers in his debut season as a sophomore in 1968 (Division I freshmen were ineligible to play in that era). Dave later joined the Army and pitched for its college team at West Point, and was a fourth-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1971. Johnson said a shoulder injury ended Dave's career in 1972.
Memories on the Field
The Carey brothers had a good pitching role model in their father, Gene Carey. Johnson recalls a three-game town ball series the Hastings Spirals played against a hard-hitting Cannon Valley team. Hastings lost two of the three -- teenaged Dave and Dan Carey took the losses, while their 40-year-old dad claimed the only win.
Johnson also recalled that Dan Carey as a senior averaged more than a dozen strikeouts a game and also hit six home runs at the plate. Johnson said that hitting six home runs in those lower-scoring wood-bat days might convert to 12-15 home runs with today's more explosive bats. He also remembered once at the end of practice as a senior that the competitive Carey accepted a friendly challenge to bat against Hastings' next best pitcher. A string of Carey home runs followed.
Johnson said people still talk about a ball that Carey hit for a 400-foot double off the top of the scoreboard at St. Paul's Midway Stadium. Baseball Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog, then a scout for the Mets, was in attendance.
Carey told a story that while he was playing in the Mets' organization, several pitchers were boasting about their hitting prowess. Dan asked Whitey if he remembered his St. Paul smash, and Herzog reportedly told the players: "That was one of the hardest hit baseballs I've ever seen."
Carey served in the National Guard during his Mets and college days. Johnson recalled that his baseball velocity became a distraction at the military base. Johnson said that one of Carey's 90-mile hour fastballs sailed through a wire fence and clipped a fellow soldier in the midsection. Two other soldiers needed medical treatment due to freak injuries that week while trying to catch his fastball. As Johnson recalls, an angry Guard leader said, "Carey, if you keep this up, you're going to kill more of us than the enemy."
Carey spent parts of seven years in the New York Mets' organization, included stops in Virginia, California, Florida and Tennessee with Mets' teams at Marion, Visalia, Pompano Beach and Memphis, respectively. He advanced as far as Class AA with a short stint at Memphis.
When he played at Visalia, ex-Cincinnati infielder and future Mets skipper Roy McMillan was his manager. Teammate Jerry Morales was a young outfielder who went on to a long career in the big leagues.
One of the highlights Carey shared came at a spring training in February 1970 playing catch with Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, a three-time American League MVP with the Yankees who was then a coach with the Mets. Carey also pitched batting practice to players from the 1969 "Miracle Mets" squad that shocked the nation and won the World Series.
Johnson recalled that a Mets instructor tried to make radical changes to Carey's pitching mechanics. "The guy was trying to improve his control, but it really messed him up," Johnson said.
Instead of better efficiency, Johnson explained, Carey actually lost velocity, and his minor-league career hit a plateau.
Carey never dwelled on what might have been in professional baseball. While he didn't make it all the way to the major leagues, he cherished the opportunities and the friendships he made during those years. Carey was just one of the guys when he returned to Minnesota and pitched in amateur ball for the Miesville Mudhens. Carey was the league MVP in 1978 when he helped lead the Mudhens to their first state crown, although he was primarily a hitter and fielder that summer.
Johnson said the Hastings gang always appreciated Carey as much for his character, humility and keen sense of humor as anything he did on the diamond. Johnson recalls pranking Carey over the years with phone calls on the day of the pro amateur draft. "I would call him and recite the amount of the signing bonus that that year's No. 24 draft pick would get -- $1.3 million, and so on," Johnson said. "He'd always hang up on me."
A Beautiful Mind
Carey followed the pro careers of Whitey Herzog and his Mets teammates. He later did meticulous research on the statistics of top major-league baseball pitchers. In 2004, he compiled his findings into a book: "Establishing Credentials for Pitcher Selection to the Hall of Fame."
Using that data -- an early form of analytics -- he lobbied Hall of Fame voters with letters and emails in support of Bert Blyleven. The former Twins staff ace never reached a World Series and had an unspectacular 287-250 overall record, but had rare totals for strikeouts (3,701) and shutouts (60). Blyleven eventually got enough votes and in 2011 was enshrined in Cooperstown.
Carey received a doctoral degree in kinesiology in 1996. While at St. Thomas from 1988 until his death in 2011, he taught courses in physiology, exercise physiology, measurement and evaluation, and health promotion. His research was published and quoted in national and international publications. He developed methods and equipment to conduct physiological testing for oxygen consumption, anaerobic power and – with the help of an underwater scale – the percent of body fat. He also conducted research for Breathe Right and Nordic Track products.
In a 2005 St. Thomas Magazine story, Carey was profiled for his underwater weighing procedure -- the most accurate method of assessing body-fat percentage. He estimated doing nearly 5,000 underwater tests over a 17-year span. He worked with many professional and college athletes, once doing a test for a pro player on Christmas Day.
"Muscle is dense (high weight-to-volume ratio) and causes you to sink in the water, while fat is much less dense and causes you to float," Carey told the reporter. "The load cell hanging from the support structure measures a subject's weight in water. Then I run a calculation for the subject. I had the concept in mind in the early '90s, and four mechanical engineering students from the University of Minnesota designed and built the device for me."
Carey himself weighed as much as 230 pounds as a pro pitcher but dropped his weight to 175 and maintained a high fitness level well into his 40s and 50s. He developed a passion for marathon running, once finishing seven 26.2-miles races in one year. Hip injuries eventually caused him to switch to cycling, and he attacked that activity with the same passion. Peers often remarked that Carey looked 10-15 years younger than his actual age due to his healthy lifestyle and fitness level.
Carey, who never married, was injured in a cycling accident early in 2010. A CT scan in March revealed an inoperable brain tumor.
That summer while receiving treatment, Carey thanked the St. Thomas community in a note published on the university website. "I've been overwhelmed by the support I've received from the UST community, from the visitors at the hospital, to the phone calls, to the cards and letters, to the great encouragement on the CaringBridge Web site. As sad as this has been, I've laughed and smiled much more than I've been sad about the situation.
"I know I have a tough road ahead, so I will continue to count on your prayers, thoughts and good wishes for the upcoming six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy."
One of his surviving sisters, Jan Monjeau, told the Hastings Star Gazette that Dan even embraced experimental therapies. He was the first human to receive four of the vaccines aimed at fighting the disease.
"I'm all about research," he told Jan. She told a reporter after he died that even if the experimental treatment couldn't save him, "maybe down the road it would do somebody some good. He looked at this research as his chance. It was a chance. With this type of cancer, there aren't a lot of chances."
After his death in 2011, a St. Thomas student told a reporter that Carey was a popular instructor who always found time for all of his students. "He was one of the most generous people - generous with time, with knowledge, with anything he could share."
"Dan was incredible," Johnson said. "As good as he was as an athlete, he was very unassuming. The people who knew him from baseball didn't know about all of his academic achievements, and the people in his academic circle and most of his students didn't know what a great player he was."
Dan Carey was a huge fan of Tommie athletics, too. Perhaps this was a spiritual connection: hours after he died on March 19, 2011, Coach Steve Fritz' team won St. Thomas' first Division III men's hoops championship in Salem, Va., with a 78-54 defeat of Wooster (Ohio).
It's not hard for people of faith to envision the guy who wore so many hats to himself proudly don a St. Thomas national championship cap on his first night in heaven.