Rod Carew

June 23, 2008

As I guess I’ve mentioned before, I somehow never got Rod Carew’s baseball card growing up. A couple months ago a reader of this blog, Brent Topping, read that this was so and kindly decided to rectify the situation. Since then I’ve tried and failed to shape my reverence for the inimitable style and astounding results of the man pictured here. Thinking about Rod Carew, trying to come up with something to say, I find I’m overpowered by the pitch.

Rod Carew was never overpowered by a pitch. Whatever it was, wherever it was aimed, whatever its nasty spin or ungodly hop, he adjusted, flipping the power of the pitch on its ass with the brevity and grace of a martial arts master. Is there any doubt that the plan the catcher pictured here and his unseen battery mate have concocted to foil Carew will fail? Carew will wait in his coiled yet serene praying mantis stance until the very last moment, then use his lightning-quick wrists to strike, lacing the pitch into some unguarded patch of the grass.

Who was a more constant part of my internal life when I was a child than Rod Carew? He was always there, at the top of the Sunday averages, the list that meant more to me than any religion. The greatest day of every summer was when my brother and I got to stay up past our bedtime to watch the entire all-star game, and Rod Carew was always among the sparkling selections. Since he had been an all-star before I was born, it seemed to me that he had always been an all-star.

It seemed as the years continued to roll by that he somehow would always be an all-star. But in 1985 an all-star game was finally played without him. I was seventeen that summer. I had a freshly earned GED, a job pumping gas, and no plans for the future. What was I supposed to do? Leaving childhood is like having a hole in your swing that continues to get bigger and bigger. The alarming absence in the midsummer classic of Rodney Cline Carew, the owner of a swing with no holes, was the last stage of erosion. How am I supposed to hit when I’m more hole than swing?


  1. 1.  The thing I remember most about Rod was how he was able to get 1000’s of people to sign up to become bone marrow donors during his daughters fight with Leukemia. They were unable to find a match for her but I expect that of the 1000’s of donors who signed up for her, they have probably saved a few lives if he got a good number of black donors.

    From what I understand they don’t need any European stock donors as I understand they have a 100% chance of finding a match if your European, but your chances are hard if you are Asian or Black as not enough people from these races have signed up.

    That is what I’ve been told by people who administer these program, so I can’t say if that is true or not.

  2. 2.  1 : From Carew’s Wikipedia entry:

    “[Carew’s daughter’s] rare Panamanian-Jewish heritage dramatically lowered [the] possibility of finding a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant.”

  3. 3.  “Is there any doubt that the plan the catcher pictured here and his unseen battery mate have concocted to foil Carew will fail?”

    Not much. The only day game the Twinkies played in Balty in ’78 was May 7th. They won 15-9. Carew came to bat six times. He batted in each of the first three innings, walking, hitting a sac fly, and singling. He’d later walk again, and single again. His only unproductive at bat was a strike out in the eighth.

    Judging by the lack of wear and tear on the uniform in a game with so much early action, and by the fact that at least in my mind, I picture baseball card photographers shooting as soon as they can in a game, usually leading to early-game shots, I’d guess this was one of the early, successful at bats. (The first two were against Palmer, the third against ill-fated future Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan.) The catcher is definitely Dempsey, though.

    Oh, and I have discovered that Topps definitely would at times use a picture from two years before instead of one. But Carew didn’t play in any Min @ Bal day games in ’77, so I think it’s safe to say this 1979 card’s pic is from 5/7/78. But I could be wrong.

  4. 4.  3 : Excellent sleuthing! My grammatically clumsy bit of rhetorical hyperbole probably deserved to be punctured, rather than supported, by the facts, but I’m happy that it wasn’t. I don’t deserve such a turn of events, but Carew certainly does.

  5. 5.  I’m a bit younger than you Josh, and Carew was just finishing his career when I became interested in baseball and, as a result, started collecting cards. But your sentiments about Carew are very similar to my own memories of Tony Gwynn. For kids a generation younger than me, it’s probably Ichiro in that role. But who was the guy before Carew?

    Was there an immensely watchable contact hitter, a star of that caliber, preceding Rod Carew? At least within living memory…cause Wee Willie Keeler was probably a blast to watch but I don’t think he can be compared to Carew, Gwynn, and Ichiro.

  6. 6.  5 : I always got the sense, from reading about it, that a couple Washington Senators, Buddy Myer and Cecil Travis, were (unsung) Carew types. Must be the franchise. I guess Tony Oliva was a bit like Carew with more power when he was in his too-short prime.

  7. 7.  0 Never mind if the sentence about the battery is a bit awkward. “Coiled yet serene praying mantis stance” makes it all worthwhile.

  8. 8.  Harvey Kuenn, courtesy Baseball-Reference.com.

  9. 9.  It seemed like Carew always had more All-Star votes than anybody else in baseball, even though he had to compete with Eddie Murray and Cecil Cooper for votes.

  10. 10.  8 : It’s hard for me to think of Harvey Kuenn as anything else but the crusty tobacco juice drooler at the helm of the ’82 Brewers. But yeah, he had some impressive batting numbers. (Not Rocky Colavito impressive, but impressive.)

    9 : I also remember Carew doing well with the voters. I think his batting average had him rated really high in people’s minds while he was playing, plus the fact that he was just really cool. Rod Carew! Some stars of that time sweated and grunted (Pete Rose), others bellowed and preened (Reggie), and others smiled and campaigned (Steve Garvey). But Rod Carew, man, he just hit.

    Now I wonder if he’s actually become a little underrated.

  11. 11.  Richie Ashburn is a decent precursor to Carew et al.

  12. 12.  it seemed to me that he had always been an all-star

    How am I supposed to hit when I’m more hole than swing?

    Josh, sometimes you’re just too damn tough on yourself, although that’s probably a part of what makes your work so great. Thanks.

  13. 13.  I got to this story a bit late. Loved the memory of the sunday paper batting averages. It was the best part of the paper and something we are spoiled about now, with the instant access of the net.

    2 memories. Carew swallowed his chaw in one all-star game and looked about as ill as man can get. Also, I loved watching him bunt more than any other player, as he would hold the bat like he was swinging away and control the ball like his stick was a magic wand.

  14. 14.  I’m amazed at how Rod Carew was at the top of the list of baseball greats when he played, now he is largely forgotten. Josh’s recollections about the emotion of seeing his name at the top of the list in the papers every single Sunday certainly rings true with my experience as well. I’ve often wondered why Carew is ignored now? I thought it was because he didn’t walk enough and didn’t hit for power, but recently I looked him up on B-R and he walked quite a bit more than I expected. I thought maybe playing for the Twins hid him a bit, but he played for some good Twins teams at the start of career and some good Angels teams at the end, and when he played, he got tons of All Star votes.

    I guess there were just too many good first basemen with power for him to stand out.

  15. Read about your blog in the Times, and am fascinated. I went straight to my big box of cards from the same era and started pawing through them.

    Topps must not have printed many of Carew’s card this year. I had multiples of all the other all-star cards, but it took all summer (buying 5 packs every week, all that my 8-year-old allowance could afford) to get this Carew card. I was in my mother’s upper west side manhattan kitchen when I opened the pack and saw it, and started jumping up and down so much that the downstairs neighbor came up to complain.

    Thanks for the great posts. Keep it up.

  16. brooklynfunbus:
    “Topps must not have printed many of Carew’s card this year.”

    You might be on to something. As I mentioned in the post, I didn’t get this card as a kid and was only able to include it out of the kindness of reader Brent Topping.

  17. “How am I supposed to hit when I’m more hole than swing?”

    Damn, that’s poetry. Great work…I’m totally stealing that.

  18. Interesting that the ’79 Carew card may have been scarce. Perhaps Topps was aware of that since I had accumulated enough ’80 Carew cards to make an entire A.L. All-Star lineup to the point where it became “not ANOTHER Carew!” And it wasn’t the kind of card kids relished with a his head filling out the frame, making me then think illogically that “maybe Topps just needs to get rid of all these Carew cards.”

  19. I’m the Brent Topping who sent Josh the card. Interesting that it’s being suggested that there was a shortage of these. If so, I’m all the more happy to have sent it to Josh. It’s doing much more now that it did sitting in my big box of 1980 Topps cards – the only set I own any significant amount of.

    Josh – Hope your book has sold well, and good luck with the paperback!

    Awesome post too at #3 figuring out which day this picture was likely taken.

  20. Rod Carew’s two strike, time-to-just-slap-whatever-is-close-over-top-of-the-second-baseman-swing was probably the most imitated thing on the whiffle / baseball fields of my youth. Everybody had one they would try… leaning out a little more over the plate, choking up ever so slightly, trying to pull off that almost nonchalant snap of the wrists… Great player to watch growing up, even if I didn’t get to see him play during his true salad days.

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