Carew, Rod 1945–
Rod Carew 1945–
Professional baseball player
One of the best hitters to ever don a baseball uniform, Rod Carew finished his 19-year Major League career with one of the highest career batting averages in Major League history and was one of the few players to surpass the 3,000-hit plateau. He won seven batting titles during his career, often by very large margins over the next best hitter in the league, and was voted to the All-Star team eighteen years in a row. Only three other players have bettered Carew’s 15 consecutive seasons of a .300 or better batting average. Along with his batting titles, Carew led the American League three times in base hits, once in runs scored, and once in triples.
Carew was known for being a relentless student of the game who continually made adjustments to his batting approach to keep his average high, and he used every technique possible to generate hits. He had an excellent batting eye and was notoriously difficult to strike out. As Lowell Reidenbaugh wrote in Baseball’s Hall of Fame: Cooperstown: Where the Legends Live Forever, “His batting stroke and use of the entire playing field is what set him apart from his peers over his 19-year major league career.” As Carew noted in his autobiography, Carew, “Dick Williams, when he was the Angels’ manager, said I had twenty different stances and that it was like pitching to five different guys every night.” Carew added, “No matter how well or poorly I’m hitting, I always take extra batting practice.”
Carew was also a fanatic at taking care of his bats. He continually cleaned them to remove the buildup of pine tar that players use to improve the grip, “I don’t even like my bat to fall into the dirt,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I baby my bats—they’re how I make my living.” Carew went so far as to lock his bats in a closet in the Twins clubhouse that was near a sauna. “I think the heat from the sauna bakes out the bad or weak wood in the bat,” he claimed.
One of batting’s all-time greats had very humble beginnings, being born on a train in Panama. Carew was frequently ill as a child, suffering a bout with rheumatic fever at age twelve, and his sickly disposition was viewed with scorn by his uncaring father, Eric, who worked as a
At a Glance…
Born Rodney Cline Carew, in Gatun, Panama, Oc tober 1, 1945; son of Eric Carew (a painter) and Oiga Carew (a domestic); married Marilynn Levy, 1970; children: Charryse; Stephanie; Michelle, died in 1996.
Career: Signed contract with Minnesota Twins, 1964; became starting second baseman, 1967; won first bat-tingtitle, 1969; set major league record for steals of home in a season (7), 1969; played winter baseball, Venezuela, 1970; played and managed a team in winter baseball, Caracas, Venezuela, 1971; became first player to win a batting crown without hitting a home run, 1972; was switched to first baseman, 1975; had most hits in one season (239), 1977; traded to the California Angels, 1979; set Angels record for batting average (339), 1983; had a batting average of .300 or better for 15 consecutive years, 1969-83; became 16th player in major league history to amass 3,000 hits, 1985; retired, 1985; elected to Hall of Fame, 1991; worked with underprivileged children, Atwood Recreation Center, Piacentia, CA; was all-time top vote-getter in AH-Starteam balloting (near32 million); child abuse spokesman; private charity work at local high schools and Little League, Orange County, CA; currently works as batting coach for Anaheim Angels (formerly California Angels).
Awards and honors: Rookie of the Year, American League, 1967; All-Star Team, Amer. League, 1967-84; Batting Champion, Amer, League, 1969, 1972-75, 1977-78; MVP, Amer. League, 1977; Baseball Hall of Fame, 1991; California Angels Hall of Fame, 1991; Top Hitter of Decade, 1969-79 (.343 average); Minn. Sports Personality of the Year; Roberto Clemente Award; Calvin Griffith Award; Amer. League Player of the Month (four times); Amer. League Player of the Week (three times).
Addresses: Professional —c/o Anaheim Angels, 2000 East Gene Autry Way, Anaheim, CA 92806-6100; c/o Baseball Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 590, Cooperstown, NY 13326-0590.
painter of bridges, buoys, and ships on the Panama Canal while his mother toiled as a domestic for a white family for a dollar a day. Carew’s family often had little to eat in the cramped five-room apartment that housed two parents and four children. “The memories that stick out about my father are of him whipping me and grounding me all the time,” he said in his autobiography. “I didn’t really have much to look forward to except baseball,” he added. Carew was much closer to his uncle, Joseph French, who frequently took him to baseball games in Panama. French had been a decathlon champion in the Caribbean in the late 1930s, and he urged the young Rod to participate in sports.
Carew frequently played baseball in bare feet on dusty streets in Gamboa in the Canal Zone where he grew up, hitting a tennis ball with a broomstick and using a paper bag as a glove. Even as a child Carew was obsessed about baseball. “Hitting was the most important thing in my life growing up,” he stated in his autobiography. “That was all I dreamed about. I won a Ted Williams model bat as Most Valuable Player in my Little League, and I actually took that bat to bed with me at night,” he continued.
When Carew was 15 his mother moved to New York City, sending for Rod and his older brother to join her later after she found employment. Although unable to participate in sports on any teams at George Washington High School, because he had to work at a job after school in a grocery store to help support the family, he developed a reputation for his baseball skill in local sandlot leagues. While playing with a team called the New York Cavaliers in the Bronx Federation League in the spring of 1964, a freelance scout for the Minnesota Twins got a look at him and was very impressed. Word spread about Carew, and before long he was watched by scouts from the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Carew found a special rapport with Herb Stein, the Twins scout, and signed a contract with the Twins for a $5,000 bonus.
“When I was a minor-leaguer, I’d stand in front of the mirror in my room and swing the bat for hours,” wrote Carew. His diligence paid off, as he finished his first season in the Rookie League with the second highest batting average. The following year he finished second again, this time in the Florida State League, and was also runner-up in stolen bases. Carew was promoted from his Class C minor league team in 1967 to become the Twins new starting second baseman. He wasted no time proving his worth, generating two hits in his first major league game on Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles that year. While Carew had trouble hitting curve balls during his first year in the big leagues, his tireless work in the batting cage ironed out the kinks. He finished the season with a respectable .292 average, which earned him Rookie of the Year honors as well as the first of many trips to the All-Star Game.
Although Carew’s hitting made him popular with the fans, he was not always popular in the dugout or locker room. “Aside from excellent play, Carew’s early years in the majors earned him a reputation for moodiness,” noted Reidenbaugh. “He was a loner who made friends slowly,” he added. Carew frequently had run-ins with the manager, and was often hostile to the press. On occasion he threatened to quit the team, but these threats proved idle, and as his career progressed he softened his attitude somewhat. His marriage to Marilynn Levy in 1970—which initially created some hostile responses because he was black and she was white and Jewish—turned him into a family man and fueled his development into a team leader.
After hitting .273 in his sophomore season, Carew really came into his own in 1969. At just 24 years of age, he racked up a .332 average for his first of many batting titles. Some of his greatest exploits that year were not at the plate but on the base paths, where Carew had become a major threat as a base stealer. In one game early in the season, he stole three bases in one inning. He also set a major league record of seven steals of home plate that year. “He was one reason why more pitchers began pitching from a stretch instead of a windup with runners on third,” commented George Will about Carew’s ability to steal home in Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball.
For the first weeks of the next season, Carew was hotter than ever at the plate. Then he suffered a serious knee injury when an opposing player slid hard into him at second base, putting him out of action for over 100 games of the 162-game season. After strengthening his knee by playing in a winter baseball league in Venezuela during the off-season, he topped .300 again in 1971. He was back on top in 1972 with his league-leading .318 average, when he became the first player to win a batting crown without hitting a single home run.
Carew continued racking up .300 seasons in the 1970s. From 1972 through 1978, he won six batting crowns out of a possible seven. An unexceptional fielder who in 1974 led the league in errors at his position, Carew proved far more capable defensively when he was moved from second base to first base in 1975. He was part of a suspenseful 1976 season when he and Kansas City Royals’ players George Brett and Hal McRae were all vying for the batting title, with Carew’s final .331 finishing barely under Brett’s .333 and McRae’s .332. Carew set off an even bigger media frenzy in 1977 when his average hovered over the elusive .400 mark, which had not been topped since Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941. His average got as high as .411 until he slipped below .400 for good in July. The performance earned him the highest vote total for the All-Star team ever, over four million votes in all. He finished the season at .388, more than 50 points higher than the next major leaguer—the highest difference in major league history. That season he also had his highest RBI total—an even 100—and tied his best home run output with 14. His 128 runs scored was the most in that category since 1961. Carew’s big numbers earned him the Most Valuable Player award in the American League for that season.
In 1978 Carew established an All-Star Game record by hitting two triples. His batting crown that year was the last of his career, but his career total of seven has been matched or bettered by only five other players in Major League history. Despite his stellar statistics, Carew’s status on the Minnesota Twins began to drop, and he felt that team owner Calvin Griffith had made unfair remarks about him. After involved negotiations, Carew was set loose and traded to the California Angels before the 1979 season for Ken Landreaux, Dave Engle, Brad Havens, and Paul Hartzell.
Despite being sidelined for six weeks of the 1979 season with his new team, Carew was still a key factor in the team winning their first division title that year. He never won a batting title with the club, but batted over .300 for the first five of his seven seasons and set the team record with a .339 average in 1983. He finished his major league career in 1985, the season when he also smacked his 3,000th hit, and finished with 3,053 hits in all.
Carew was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when he first became eligible in 1991, and was elected on the first ballot. In 1996 he suffered the heartbreaking loss of his 18-year-old daughter Michelle, who lost a long battle against leukemia. Carew and his wife had launched a well-publicized campaign for bone marrow donations for their daughter, but no match could be found because of their gene mix of black/West Indian and Russian-Jewish. Carew is one of only two players (with Tony Gwynn, still an active player) in the last 50 years with a career average of nearly .330 (.328) and over 200 stolen bases (353). Currently, he is a highly regarded batting coach for the Anaheim Angels (formerly the California Angels).
Carew, Rod, with Ira Berkow, Carew, Simon and Schuster, 1979.
Reichler, Joseph L., editor, The Baseball Encyclopedia, Macmillan, 1976, p. 761.
Reidenbaugh, Lowell, Baseball’s Hall of Fame: Cooperstown: Where the Legends Live Forever, Crescent Books, 1993, pp. 39–40.
Will, George F., Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, Macmillan, 1990.
Cincinnati Enquirer, April 19, 1996.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Web sites of the Anaheim Angels and CNN/Sports Illustrated on the Internet.
Rod Carew (born 1945) is widely recognized as one of the best hitters of his generation in professional baseball.
During his 19 seasons with the Major League's Minnesota Twins and California Angels, Carew lined, chopped, and bunted his way to 3,053 hits, winning seven batting titles and hitting .300 or better for 15 consecutive seasons. Thought by many sportswriters and fans alike to have elevated the skill of hitting a baseball to an art form, Carew was named to 18 straight All-Star teams and received American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1967 and the American League Most Valuable Player award ten years later.
In 1991, five years after his retirement, Carew became only the twenty-third player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in his first year of eligibility. A national hero in both his native Panama—where he proudly retains his citizenship—and the United States, Carew has spent his retirement years running a batting school for young players in suburban Los Angeles.
Carew's early years were marred by illness and poverty. On October 1, 1945, Olga Carew went into labor and boarded a train in Gatun, Panama, hoping to reach a Gamboa clinic in time for doctors to attend to her child's delivery. The baby would not wait, however. Margaret Allen, a nurse, and Dr. Rodney Cline, a physician, both of whom happened to be on the train, delivered the woman's second son. While the excited mother asked the nurse to become the child's godmother, she honored the doctor by naming her son Rodney Cline Carew.
As a young boy, Carew was frequently ill and contracted rheumatic fever at the age of 12. The weakness that accompanied the disease brought only contempt and rejection from his father. Carew's uncle, Joseph French, who was a recreation official and Little League coach in Panama, attempted to fill the void. French cultivated the boy's interest in baseball and encouraged him to develop his athletic abilities despite the illness. As Carew grew stronger, he joined the other boys in pickup games played with a broom handle and rag balls wound in tape. His outstanding play in the local Little League even won him a Ted Williams bat, a prized possession that he often carried with him—even to bed, where he dreamed of traveling to the United States and becoming a big-league baseball player.
Sandlot Discovery Led to Tryout
When Carew was 15, his mother immigrated to New York City, where after finding a job and a place to live, she sent for her two sons. Once in New York, Rod enrolled at Manhattan's George Washington High School, but a part-time job at a grocery store to help support the family prevented him from trying out for school sports. The family's financial concerns, though, did not prevent Carew from participating in weekend sandlot games in Macombs Dam Park next to Yankee Stadium. It did not take long for him to show his skill at the plate; after a few weeks of play, a teammate's father—an unofficial scout for the Minnesota Twins—took notice of the talented kid from Panama and made a phone call to another scout. When the Twins came to town for a series with the Yankees, Carew came to Yankee Stadium for a tryout. Once inside the batting cage, the skinny 18-year-old demonstrated a hitting power that belied his six-foot, 170-pound frame. So many balls landed in the bleachers that Twins Manager Sam Mele—afraid the Yankees might offer him a higher signing bonus—halted the tryout. One month after the tryout, Carew signed with the Twins for a $5,000 bonus.
Moved Quickly to Major League
Unlike most players who need several years in the minor leagues to develop their skills, Carew spent only three years in the farm system before Twins owner Calvin Griffith brought him up to the big league club, inserting him into the starting lineup at second base for the start of the 1967 season. Although some within the organization—including Mele—did not believe the 21-year-old from the Class-A farm team was ready for the majors, Carew silenced the skeptics by hitting .292 his first season and winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. While quickly becoming one of the game's leading hitters, Carew also dazzled fans with his speed on the base paths with a record—breaking seven steals home. In one game that same season he stole second, third, and home in a single inning— a feat performed only once before in the previous four decades.
Despite his success on the field, Carew developed a reputation in his early years as "a loner who made friends slowly and suffered slights poorly," according to Time. Much of this changed, however, after he was introduced to Marilynn Levy at a local nightspot. At first the white Jewish woman was not interested in the black baseball player from Panama. As Marilynn told Time, "Sports? I didn't know from the Twins, and like a cocky little broad, I wasn't impressed." Despite the inauspicious beginning, the two began dating and married in October of 1970. While Carew was quickly accepted into the Levy family, he received a number of death threats and insults from Twins' followers. The two did not let racism prevent them from settling in Minneapolis, where they would have three daughters.
Although Carew won four batting titles between 1972 and 1975 and missed his fifth straight by .002 points, he did not receive the media attention granted to far lesser players. This was due in part to the fact that Carew prided himself in hitting singles rather than home runs. In 1975, Twins owner Griffith turned down Carew's request for a modest salary increase, claiming that the future Hall of Famer did not hit enough home runs to deserve the pay raise. The arbitrator sided with the Twins management and fixed Carew's salary at only $120,000—more than modest by league standards for a man of his ability. As if to prove his critics wrong, Carew hit 14 home runs the following season.
It was Carew's performance in 1977, however, that reserved him a position in the Hall of Fame and gained the respect of the national media. As Carew made his bid to become the first player in 36 years to hit .400, he appeared on the cover of Time as well as several sports publications and was featured in Newsweek. After one blazing hitting streak in late June that brought his average to .411, Carew told Newsweek's Peter Bonventre that every pitch that came to the plate during that banner season "look[ed] like a basketball." When asked by Bonventre how to get Carew out, Gaylord Perry, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Texas Rangers replied, "Greaseball, greaseball, greaseball. That's all I throw him, and he still hits them. He's the only player in baseball who consistently hits my grease. He sees the ball so well, I guess he can pick out the dry side." Although his average hovered above the mark well into the season, Carew finished at .388. But with 100 runs batted in and 100 runs scored to go with his lofty average, he was still the runaway winner of the American League's Most Valuable Player award.
Despite Carew's singular performance that season, he could not reach a contract agreement with management and was traded to the California Angels just two years later. After spending seven years in California, where he hit better than .300 five times, he was suddenly released after the 1985 season. Angered by the way Carew was treated, a Minneapolis media celebrity led an unsuccessful campaign to bring him back to Minnesota for a farewell season in 1986. No one was more disappointed than Marilynn Carew with the failed effort. "I'm still angry about it," she told the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch. "With the d.h. rule, Rod should still be playing. He would have done a lot for [Minnesota]." After the initial feelings of bitterness, however, her husband was ready for life on the other side of the basepaths. "Once I started coaching my daughters in softball and then started the hitting school," he said. "I found out I could get along without baseball."
Inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame
The transition to civilian life was made easier in 1991 when Carew was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, receiving more than 90 percent of the sportswriters' votes. "He was one of the best hitters I've ever seen." Twins owner Griffith told the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch. "He was just a natural up there. That's all there was to it. He had a stroke that God gave him and he took advantage of it." Former manager Mele, who initially opposed Carew's promotion to the majors, shared Griffith's sentiment. "I don't know who you could compare him with …," he told the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. "You could put him in a tunnel with the lights out and you still know he's going to hit."
While many used the occasion of Carew's induction to remember his brilliance on the field, others recalled his regular travels to the Mayo Clinic to visit patients, his winning of the 1976 Roberto Clemente Award for distinguished community service, and his strong attachment to his Panamanian background. As former Twins Manager Gene Mauch stated in Time, "As impressed as I am with Rod Carew the hitter, Rod Carew the baseball player, I am more impressed with Rod Carew the man."
Carew faced perhaps his most difficult test off the field when his 18-year-old daughter, Michelle, died of leukemia on April 17, 1996. Since his daughter's diagnosis with the disease in September of 1995, Carew led a campaign to find an appropriate donor for a bone-marrow transplant. Unfortunately, because the donor pool is so limited in diversity, the operation was never performed. However, Carew succeeded in bringing media attention to the need for donors, and won even further admiration for his tireless efforts on behalf of his daughter.
Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1991.
Minneapolis Star and Tribune, January 9, 1991.
Newsweek, August 11, 1969, pp. 61-62; July 11, 1977, pp. 46-47.
People, December 4, 1995, p. 133.
Sports Illustrated, July 17, 1995, pp. 28-36.
St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch (Minnesota), July 20, 1987;January 9, 1991; July 22, 1991.
Time, July 18, 1977, pp. 52-62. □