Wednesday, March 5, 2014

#400 Rod Carew

Number 400! The #280 Tim Raines  post has now become the most popular. In the 300-series of cards, #355 Lee Smith takes top billing.

Card thoughts: Goodbye, Rod Carew. This is your final Topps card. Fitting that he got the “00” suffix, as Carew was one of the greatest hitters of all time.

The player: Carew was nothing but consistent. A career .300 hitter, he was an all- star every season but this one, and hit over .300 for 15 straight seasons.  In addition, he served for several years in the offseason with the Marines.

Carew started out as a star, and really never let up. Named the Rookie of the Year in 1967, he was starting at second base in the all star game that year (he was voted starting second baseman on the team from 1967-1969 and from 1971-1975). Still a little raw, he would walk just 39 times while striking out 91, a lot for a slap hitting middle infielder. Despite this, he would hit .292.

Carew would win his first batting crown in 1969, hitting .332, although he still wasn’t walking much (just 37 walks in 504 plate appearances). Carew also began to run more, stealing home seven times, just short of Ty Cobb’s record. 1970 looked to be the season Carew’s career really took off. He was hitting .366 when he got injured after 51 games. But more importantly for Carew, he would meet his wife that season, a white Jewish woman from New York. When they were married, Carew received many death threats from fans against interracial (and inter-religious) marriage.

From 1972-1978, Carew would win batting titles every year but one, just missing out by .002 percentage points in 1976 to #300 George Brett. Every part of Carew’s game improved. He began to use his speed more (a career high 49 steals in 1976), and, installed in the middle of the order in 1975, he began to drive in lots of runs, despite hitting for little power. One thing that did decline was fielding at second. Carew was moved to first base in 1976.

The year that really cemented Carew’s reputation was 1977, when he flirted with .400 with much of the year, ending with a league leading .388 batting average. He would end up leading the league in runs (128), hits (239), triples (16), on base percentage (.449) and OPS (a whopping 1.019).

Just one year later, after winning yet another batting title (.333), the famously stingy Twins owner refused to meet Carew’s contract demands. But Gene Autry, the owner of the Angels, had his wallet wide open and he signed Carew to a big deal.

Now 33, Carew would continue to hit .300 consistently for the Angels, but age was taking a toll and he only played in over 140 games once. Still appearing as a starter in all-star games at first base (more on reputation than performance at this point), he had 2 hits in both the 1980 and 1983 games.

By 1985, Carew was nearly 40 years old, and the Angels had a future star in Wally Joyner sitting in the minors. Despite hitting .280 and playing in 127 games, the Angels released him, and unable to find another team (despite a fan petition to bring him back to the Twins as a DH), he retired.

An obvious first ballot hall of famer, Carew ranks up there with the all-time greats. All of his comps are Hall of Famers as well, but he compares most with Wade Boggs. In retirement, Carew has worked (of course) as a hitting coach for the Angels and the Brewers. After years of chewing tobacco, his mouth was pretty much completely ruined and he got cancer, so he had to spend lots of money on restorative dental work.

A long standing controversy (if you can call it that) is whether Carew had converted to Judaism. Although his children were raised Jewish, Carew never converted, despite the claims of some writers and, most famously, Adam Sandler, in his Hanukkah Song.

Rear guard: Those are Carew’s final numbers (if you can read them).

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