UW News

October 18, 2001

Dr. John Olerud talks about his son and baseball

By Craig Degginger
HS News & Community Relations

Dr. John Olerud can’t go anywhere these days without being asked about baseball, his son and the Seattle Mariners. And he doesn’t mind it a bit.

Dr. Olerud’s son, as just about everyone in Seattle knows, is Mariners’ first baseman John Olerud.

“My residents who follow me around and have to listen to the patients ask me about it, and to hear the same answers, must get tired of it,” said Dr. Olerud, head of the UW Division of Dermatology and professor of medicine.

“But for me, I enjoy it. You couldn’t pick a better topic for me to talk to the patients about than baseball or my son.”

Dr. Olerud is as impressed as anyone by the Mariners’ accomplishments as they enter postseason play.

“I don’t think anyone would have predicted the Mariners would tie the major league record of 116 wins,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”

Dr. Olerud and his wife, Lynda, have been through this before, as John won World Series championships in 1992 and 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

But this is even more special, being able to watch their son play every day, in the same city where Dr. Olerud once played catcher for the minor league Seattle Angels in the 1960s.

“It seems more real that it’s happening here,” Dr. Olerud said.

John was born Aug. 5, 1968, his mother going into labor while his father was playing a doubleheader in Tacoma. Dr. Olerud graduated from the UW School of Medicine in 1971, continuing to play baseball in the summers.

He coached his son’s youth baseball teams until John left for college at Washington State University, where he became college player of the year.

But in 1989, John collapsed during a workout at WSU. He was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage that caused bleeding in the spinal column.

“It was a frightening thing,” Dr. Olerud said. “But we were fortunate the aneurysm was found within a few weeks.”

Dr. H. Richard Winn, professor and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery, removed the aneurysm and John was back playing within a short time, joining the Blue Jays later that summer. As Mariners fans know, he still wears a protective batting helmet in the field at all times.

In 1993 John received the Hutch Award, which goes to the major league player who best exemplifies the character, courage and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.

John has been a remarkably steady performer over the years with Toronto, the New York Mets and Seattle, hitting for a career .300 average and playing great defense.

“I think he works very hard on his game,” Dr. Olerud said. “The relaxed approach he takes in the field belies how hard he works on his game. He just does it in a quiet way. He’s just as easygoing off the field.”

John and his wife, Kelly, have two children – Garrett, 3, and Jordan, 1. Dr. Olerud and his wife also have a daughter, Erica, who is studying apparel design.

Garrett is becoming increasingly aware of his dad’s special job.

“Last year his favorite player was ‘Alex Wadweegez’,” Dr. Olerud says with a big smile. “Now it’s Daddy. He tells his dad to hit a home run when he leaves for the park.”

Does John still ask Dad for baseball advice?

“The advice he asks me for is more medical than baseball,” Dr. Olerud said. “But I think he would say few people know his swing better than I do. Occasionally I’ll say something and he’ll be polite about it, but he’s the batting champion and I’m the .270 lifetime hitter.”

Home or away during the playoffs, the Oleruds will be in the stands watching their son.

“I would be understating it if I didn’t say I was very proud,” Dr. Olerud said, “and equally as proud of how John conducts himself as a person as the way he does on the baseball field.”