Rozner: Olerud tale gives hope for Farquhar family

  • John Olerud had surgery to remove an aneurysm at the base of his brain on Feb. 27, 1989 when he was 20 years old. Six weeks later, he was playing with his college baseball again, and he made his MLB debut about six months later on Sept. 3, 1989 with Toronto. He went on to have a 17-year career in the majors.

    John Olerud had surgery to remove an aneurysm at the base of his brain on Feb. 27, 1989 when he was 20 years old. Six weeks later, he was playing with his college baseball again, and he made his MLB debut about six months later on Sept. 3, 1989 with Toronto. He went on to have a 17-year career in the majors. Associated Press File Photo/1999

 
 
Updated 4/23/2018 7:43 PM

The first thing John Olerud wants you to know is he's completely healthy.

Nearly 30 years after headaches led doctors to find a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm, he is the same guy he was before the surgery, the same one who played 17 years in the big leagues after he was felled as a junior at Washington State.

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He wants to make sure Danny Farquhar's family knows this as well, days after the White Sox pitcher endured a headache Friday during an inning on the mound, just before an aneurysm caused a hemorrhage and his collapse.

"It was late in the fall of 1988 and I was starting to work out pretty hard to get ready for baseball season," the 49-year-old Olerud said by phone Sunday night from his Seattle home. "After strenuous workouts, I would get these terrible headaches.

"There were two really bad episodes before my hemorrhage. These were hard workouts, trying to get my heart rate elevated.

"I thought I just wasn't breathing enough, getting enough oxygen, but I was doing box jumps a week later and getting the same headaches."

When he returned from Christmas break, the 20-year-old Olerud began training in early 1989 for his baseball team's timed mile.

"I ran as hard as I could for three quarters and thought that was enough, but then I got the worst headache of all," Olerud recounts in detail, as if it were yesterday. "I said, 'Man, what is the deal with these headaches?'

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The last thing I remember was looking down at my feet. That's it. I had a grand mal seizure and they took me to the hospital. I was conscious the entire time and remember none of it.

"Not the conversations with people, not when my dad flew in from Seattle to Pullman, not the helicopter ride to Spokane. I was awake and remember nothing.

"They did all kinds of tests to find the aneurysm, but couldn't. They sent me home after a couple of weeks."

His orders were nothing strenuous the first two weeks, hitting and playing catch the third week. Fourth week, he could start running.

"I had just started running again when my dad -- who's a physician -- called me and told me to come back to Seattle," Olerud said. "We went to another hospital to have another study done."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Six weeks after the initial hemorrhage, that's when they found the aneurysm.

"They put a catheter in my hip and squirted dye into my head to try to find it," Olerud explained. "Then, they put the X-ray up there and I remember seeing the aneurysm, as clear as can be, the way it was lit up.

"Three days later they were cutting open my skull and clipping the aneurysm.

"If I hadn't gone back, if I had been running hard again, I don't know," said Olerud, who married a high school classmate and has three children just like Danny Farquhar. "They said the survival rate from a second aneurysm bleed is like 12 percent, so I was obviously very fortunate that I went back when I did and that didn't happen.

"The surgery was late February 1989 and I was back playing baseball six weeks later."

John Olerud, right, seen here after a game at Comiskey Park, always wore a helmet on the field to protect his head after he had surgery in college to remove an aneurysm in his brain. He says his thoughts today are with Danny Farquhar and his family after the White Sox pitcher underwent similar surgery this weekend.
John Olerud, right, seen here after a game at Comiskey Park, always wore a helmet on the field to protect his head after he had surgery in college to remove an aneurysm in his brain. He says his thoughts today are with Danny Farquhar and his family after the White Sox pitcher underwent similar surgery this weekend. - Associated Press/2000 file

And that's where the famous helmet was born. Olerud was known for wearing his batting helmet in the field during his major-league career.

"The doctor said they cut a chunk of skull out and replaced it, and he didn't want me getting hit while it was healing," Olerud said. "After that first year, I could have taken it off, but by then I was used to the helmet. I figured it's not a bad idea to keep it on."

That season, Olerud hit .359 for Washington State with 5 homers and 30 RBI in 78 at-bats, and won three games as a pitcher. The Blue Jays drafted him in the third round and offered a huge signing bonus, so he left WSU and headed straight for Toronto in August.

He's one of four players since 1989 to go straight from an American college to the majors without spending a day in the minors (Darren Dreifort, Xavier Nady, Mike Leake).

From brain surgery to the big leagues in six months, launching a 17-year career in which he won two World Series in Toronto, made two all-star teams and posted a .398 on-base with an .863 OPS, while collecting three gold gloves, 255 homers, 500 doubles, 1,230 RBI, 2,239 hits and 1,275 walks (49th all time).

"I never again had a problem," Olerud said. "Once you have an aneurysm clipped, the chances of having another one are small, so I didn't have any concerns.

"I just know my situation. I know that everyone has different situations, but I never had those headaches again.

"I'm aware of how lucky I am that they found it and I feel super blessed that the Lord spared me in that situation, that I was able to make it through that and continue playing baseball.

"But it was a very scary time for my family, and I'm sure it's very scary now for Danny's family. I just hope he comes through this well. I wish Danny and his family all the best.

"I'm pulling hard for him."

For one of the rare times in his life, in this regard John Olerud will have to get in line.

After being drafted in 1989, John Olerud played 17 MLB seasons, hitting 255 home runs, 1,230 RBI, 2,239 hits and batting .295.
After being drafted in 1989, John Olerud played 17 MLB seasons, hitting 255 home runs, 1,230 RBI, 2,239 hits and batting .295. - Associated Press/2005

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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