“He has no weakness as a hitter. Anything you throw he can handle.” – Catfish Hunter
For a generation of American League baseball fans, Rod Carew was the definition of “batting champion.”
The owner of a .328 career average and 3,053 hits to go along with seven batting titles and 18 All-Star Game selections, Carew tormented pitchers with a smooth swing from a crouched stance, using incredible hand-eye coordination developed as a youth in Panama.
Born Oct. 1, 1945, on a train in the Canal Zone and named for the doctor who delivered him, Rodney Cline Carew used a broomstick and bottle caps as his first bat and balls before moving to New York City as a teenager. Carew did not play high school baseball, but was spotted by Minnesota Twins scouts on a semi-pro team and was signed as an amateur free agent in 1964.
As a big league rookie second baseman in 1967, Carew hit .292 with 51 RBI, earning an All-Star Game selection and winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. The next season, Carew hit .273 – the last season Carew would finish under .300 for 15 years.
Carew hit .332 in 1969 en route to his first batting title, helping Minnesota win the inaugural AL West crown. He was hitting .366 in 51 games in 1970 before a knee injury sidelined him for three months.
After hitting .307 in 1971, Carew reeled off four straight batting titles – missing a fifth in 1976 by .002. The next year, Carew had his best season – flirting with the magic .400 mark for most of the year before ending up at .388 with 239 hits, 128 runs scored, 100 RBI and the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Carew hit .333 in 1978 to win his seventh and final batting crown, then was traded to the California Angels prior to the 1979 season. In seven years in California, Carew – who moved to first base in 1976 – led the Angels to their first two AL West titles in 1979 and 1982, batting .294 in the ALCS for California.
Carew remained an active player through the 1985 season, reaching the 3,000-hit milestone that summer, becoming the 16th player to join that exclusive club. In 1991, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“He doesn’t have to prove anything,” said Twins manager Gene Mauch during that magic summer of 1977. “All he has to do is retire and wait for the Hall of Fame to call.”