‘Doc’ Rodgers fighting cancer head on
Radio personality back to doing what he loves
By John Kiesewetter
Darrell “Doc” Rodgers doesn’t look like a man with terminal cancer running up and down a basketball court refereeing high school games.
Five or six nights a week.
“I’ll show up to officiate games and people will say, ‘Oh Doc, it’s good to see you’re up and about!’ ” said Rodgers, 48, WLW-AM’s “Extra Innings” show host who announced in June he had stage 4 lung cancer.
“I’ve been running up and down the court for months. That’s what people don’t know,” said Rodgers, an Oklahoma high school basketball star who started officiating in 1985 to stay in shape for his minor-league baseball career.
The former Reds assistant general manager – now a real estate agent for Wyoming’s Coldwell Banker West Shell office — resumed refereeing boys’ and girls’ varsity games in November, after doctors said chemotherapy shrunk his lung tumor by 50 percent.
Even his doctor is impressed.
“It’s a testament to the good shape he was in,” said Dr. Tahir Latif, a UC Health Barrett Cancer Center oncologist. “I gave him pretty tough (chemo) therapy, and it was like a walk in the park for him.”
Rodgers says he feels fine – which can happen with stage 4 lung cancer patients after a first round of chemotherapy, Latif said.
“I wouldn’t know I have cancer, except from the side effects of the stuff that’s supposed to be curing me – chemo, steroids and blood thinner,” Rodgers said. “My hair is coming back. I got my first haircut in months in January. My eyebrows are coming back. My feet are sore. I’m 15 to 20 pounds heavier now because I didn’t officiate all summer, and my feet aren’t used to that weight.”
Rodgers, vice president-elect of the Ohio Valley Basketball Officials Association, hung up whistle in May.
He told “Extra Innings” listeners back then about his bad migraine headaches. When his left knee, foot and arm went numb on May 23, he thought he was having a stroke.
Emergency room doctors found a brain tumor about the size of a quarter. In preparation for brain surgery on May 25, a full-body scan revealed that he had terminal stage 4, non-small-cell lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
He was stunned.
“I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I eat more salads than I do red meat,” said Rodgers, who lives in Springfield Township with his wife, Dorothy, and their two children, Jazmine, 12, and Kobe, 8.
On Father’s Day, he choked up telling listeners his news. The one-year survival rate for stage 4 lung cancer patients is 30-35 percent; two-year survival is 15-20 percent; the five-year survival is 2 percent, Latif said.
Rodgers continued his weekend shows all baseball season. By August, he had two radiation treatments on the brain tumor and had started four chemo sessions.
At his November check-up, Latif told him the lung tumor was reduced by half, from the size of a small lemon to a walnut. Rodgers was given the option of more chemo or a three-month break.
He took a time-out.
Three months would get him through the basketball season. He could keep officiating dates he booked a year ago. Officials are paid $55-$65 a game, depending on the league.
“It was divine intervention or something,” said Rodgers, who will see his doctors next week to review a new body scan and MRI.
Fellow officials have been surprised by his stamina.
“It shocked us to see him out there, doing six or seven games a week. That’s amazing,” said Tony Lingardo, 51, of West Chester Township, an Ohio Valley Basketball Officials Association trustee.
Lingardo, who calls 3-4 games a week, remembers seeing Rodgers’ puffy face and lack of facial hair last summer. When they reffed together in late November, “Doc looked great. If you didn’t know what he had gone through, you wouldn’t know it,” he said.
Latif treated Rodgers aggressively because he had been in good shape all his life. The 6-foot-2 Rodgers pitched six minor-league seasons for the San Francisco Giants and Reds (1985-90) before becoming a Reds minor-league pitching coach (1991-92).
When offered a Reds front-office job by Jim Bowden and Marge Schott in December 1992, Rodgers delayed his move here two months so he could complete his Oklahoma officiating schedule.
“I drove to my last basketball game in a U-Haul truck,” he said.
His officiating season ends with a March 2 boys’ high school tournament game. On April 2, he starts his fourth year of “Extra Innings. By that time, Rodgers may be undergoing more chemotherapy or radiation.
“With lung cancer, the philosophy is intermittent treatment. We know for sure the tumor is going to grow. That’s what I’m expecting the next time I see him,” Latif said.
Rodgers knows his fight isn’t over.
“They’re going to check me every couple of months,” he said. “If something comes up, we’ll make adjustments then to my treatments.”
Doc Rodgers bio
Born: Darrell Oct. 6, 1962, in Waco Texas.
Family: Lives in Springfield Township with wife, Dorothy, a Procter & Gamble Co. section manager; daughter, Jazmine, 12; son, Kobe, 8.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Radio/TV/Film from University of Oklahoma, 1985; master’s in sports management, University of Oklahoma, 1994.
Baseball: Pitched six minor-league seasons for San Francisco Giants and Reds (1985-90); Reds minor league pitching coach (1991-92); Reds assistant for baseball operations (1993-95); Detroit Tigers baseball operations director (1996); Reds assistant general manager (1997-2002); Baltimore Orioles minor league operations director (2003-04).
Real Estate: Sells for Coldwell Banker West Shell in Wyoming; member of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors Business Technology Committee (2006-08).
Basketball: Vice president-elect of the Ohio Valley Basketball Officials Association
Radio: Replaced Tracy Jones as WLW-AM (700) weekend “Extra Innings” host in 2008. Resumes show April 2.