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Sports Then and Now

Rod Carew: Hitting Machine

Posted on July 05, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Rod Carew

Rod Carew

With the Major League All-Star Game being played this year in Minnesota, we recognize as the July Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month one of the best hitters of the last half a century who was named to 18 straight All-Star teams, including in each of his 12 seasons with the Twins.

Few have been as good at the craft of hitting a baseball as Rod Carew. During 19 major league seasons, Carew won seven batting titles and hit .330 or better ten times.

His ability was obvious from the very beginning as the native of Gatun, Panama burst onto the scene in 1967 and was the starting second baseman on the All-Star team as a rookie. He also earned American League Rookie of the Year honors while hitting .292 with eight home runs and 51 RBI.

Just two years later, the 23-year-old Carew won his first American League batting title with a .332 average as the Twins reached the playoffs for the first time since 1965.

During the decade of the 1970s, no one in baseball was a more consistent hitter than Carew. Over the ten year period, Carew hit .343 while winning six batting titles and reaching 200 hits four times. He was the American League All-Star second baseman for the first half of the decade and then in 1976 moved to first base and remained a regular All-Star at that position.

In 1977, Carew enjoyed his finest season and became the first serious contender to join the .400 batting average club since the accomplishment had last been done by Ted Williams in 1941.

He was hitting over .400 as late as July 10th and took a .394 average into the All-Star break. However, he was unable to keep up the pace and his average fell as low as .374 before Carew ended the season on a hot streak to push his average to .388.

Carew was selected to 18 straight All-Star Games.

Carew was selected to 18 straight All-Star Games.

In addition to his career-high batting average, in 1977 Carew also posted career-highs with 128 runs scored, 239 hits, 38 doubles, 16 triples, 14 home runs and 100 RBI to earn the American League MVP Award.

Unfortunately, while Carew was at the peak of his career, the Twins were struggling to compete in the tough AL West. After reaching the playoffs (and losing in the AL Championship Series to the Baltimore Orioles) in back-to-back seasons of 1969 and 1970, the Twins had been a middle-of-the-pack team as their best finish in the division was third place. In 1977 they went 84-77, but were in fourth place in their division.

The following season the 32-year-old Carew won his seventh batting title with a .333 average, but the Twins struggled to a 73-89 record and finished 19 games out of firth place in their division.

After that season, the Twins allowed Carew to leave as a free agent and he signed with the California Angels.

Though limited to only 110 games during his first season in California, Carew still hit .318 and earned a spot in the All-Star Game. He also helped the Angels reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history (ironically losing to the Baltimore Orioles as Carew’s Twins had done twice previously).

Over the next four years, Carew remained one of the top hitters in baseball. In 1983, at the age of 37, Carew hit .339 to finish second in batting average in the AL behind 25 year old Wade Boggs, who won the first of his five titles with a .361 average.

In 1984 Carew’s batting average fell below .300 (.295) for the first time since the 1968 season and in 1985 he was not selected for the All-Star team for the first time in his career.

However, the summer of 1985 was still a memorable one for Carew as he registered the 3,000th hit of his career. He retired at the end of the season with 3,053 career hits and a .328 career batting average.

Carew was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1991. He served as the hitting coach for the Angels during a time when they developed several players who would become stars including Garrett Anderson, Jim Edmonds and Tim Salmon. He also later served as hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

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