Carew, Rod(ney) Cline

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CAREW, Rod(ney) Cline

(b. 1 October 1945 near Gatun, Panama), professional baseball player considered one of the best hitters of his generation, enshrinee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and batting coach of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Carew was born on a train near Gatun, Panama, and named in honor of Dr. Rodney Cline, the physician who helped deliver him. His father, Eric Carew, was a painter of ships, bridges, and buoys in the Panama Canal Zone; his mother, Olga Carew, was a domestic. Carew came down with rheumatic fever when he was twelve; the resulting weakness was greeted with contempt by his father who eventually rejected and abandoned his son.

Carew's uncle Joseph French, a Little League coach and recreation official, sought to fill the role of surrogate father by cultivating the boy's interest in baseball. Although his family was poor, his mother ensured that he always had baseball shoes and a glove. Carew's uncle was his first batting coach, exhorting him to practice hitting tape-bound rag balls with a broom handle. Playing with a number of Little League teams in Panama, Carew gradually developed the full range of skills he needed as a ballplayer. By the time he was thirteen he was playing ball in a senior league and ranked as one of its best hitters. His most prized boyhood possession was a Ted Williams bat, awarded to him for outstanding Little League play. Carew carried the bat with him everywhere he went, even to bed, and dreamed of the day he would play major-league ball in the United States.

Carew's mother, seeking a better life for her two sons, went to the United States in 1960, when Carew was fifteen. After she had a job and located a place for the family to live, she sent for the boys. Carew, the younger son, enrolled at George Washington High School in Upper Manhattan, but he did not participate in high school sports because he worked after school in a neighborhood grocery store. On the weekends, however, he managed to find time to play in sandlot games in a local park. A teammate's father who did some unofficial scouting for the Minnesota Twins alerted team headquarters to Carew's batting skills. A tryout was arranged for Carew when the Twins next visited New York City for a game with the Yankees. Carew was so impressive that Sam Mele, the manager of the Twins, cut short the tryout for fear the Yankees might outbid him for Carew's services. Offered a $5,000 bonus, Carew signed with the Twins about a month later.

Carew spent only three years in the Twins farm system before he was brought up to the big-league club and put in the starting lineup. Playing second base, Carew silenced the critics who claimed he was not ready for the majors by batting .292 his first season out. His stellar debut performance was rewarded with the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1967. In October 1970 Carew, who is black, married Marilynn Levy, a white woman, setting off a flurry of racist threats and insults.

From 1972 through 1975 Carew won four consecutive batting titles and missed a fifth by only .002 point. His focus on hitting singles rather than home runs meant that he drew less attention from the media than less talented but flashier players. In fact, it was the lack of homers that the Twins' owner, Calvin Griffith, used as an excuse to turn down a 1975 salary increase request from Carew.

Carew's finest year in baseball was 1977, when early in the season it seemed likely that he would become the first player in nearly four decades to bat .400 for the season. Although he faltered late in the season, finishing the year with a batting average of .388, his 100 runs batted in and 100 runs scored were more than enough to win him the American League's Most Valuable Player Award. Carew's long run with the Twins came to an end two years later, when he was traded to the California Angels after he and the Twins were unable to reach agreement on a contract. He played the next seven seasons in Southern California but was abruptly released after the 1985 season. He batted better than .300 five out of his seven seasons with the Angels.

Carew's election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 was widely applauded by fans and ballplayers alike. Former manager Sam Mele said of Carew, "You could put him in a tunnel with the lights out and you still know he's going to hit."

Carew has never strayed far from baseball. He spent eight years as the Angels' batting coach before joining the Milwaukee Brewers in the same capacity after the 1999 season. With the Brewers in a batting slump during the 2001 season, Carew came under fire from Brewer fans, particularly on talk radio. In his defense, he told the media, "I can only prepare [the hitters] mentally and physically. When they step up to the plate, there's nothing I can do."

During his career Carew was honored with seven league batting titles, a figure surpassed only by Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, and Honus Wagner, and equaled only by Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial. For fifteen consecutive seasons, playing first with the Minnesota Twins and later with the California Angels, Carew batted over .300. He played on eighteen straight All-Star teams. With more than 3,050 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .328, it is little wonder that Carew was widely described as "the best damn hitter in baseball" for much of the 1970s.

An excellent profile of Carew and his baseball career is provided in Carew (1979), the baseball player's frank and unblinking autobiography, written with Ira Berkow. Carew shares secrets of his game in Rod Carew ' s Art and Science of Hitting (1986), written with Frank Pace and Armen Keteyian. His life in baseball is among those profiled in Reflections of the Game: Lives in Baseball (1998), compiled by Ron C. Modra, the world-famous photographer for Sports Illustrated. Ideally suited for younger readers are Bill Libby's Rod Carew: Master Hitter (1976), and Marshall Burchard's Sports Hero: Rod Carew (1978).

Don Amerman