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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Today's Birthdays

Rod Carew CAL b. 1945, played 1979-1985, All-Star: 1967-1984, Hall of Fame: 1991 (BBWAA). An All-Star every year but his last season and Rookie of the Year in 1967, Top 100 Angel Carew is in the top ten of a number of Angel franchise records, including these career stats: average (.314, 1st), runs scored (474, 10th), hits (968, 8th), walks (405, 8th), OBP (.393, first), games played at first (720, 2nd); and single-season sacrifice hits (16 in 1982, 5-way tie for 6th) and OBP (.419 in 1979). His 3,053 career hits put him in elite company: all players with 3,000 or more hits are in the Hall of Fame, save for Pete Rose (who is banned); Cal Ripken, Jr., Tony Gwynn, and Rickey Henderson (who are not yet eligible); and Rafael Palmeiro (whose taint from the steroids scandal will probably keep him out). He led the league seven times in batting average, all with the Twins; his 1977 average of .388 was the highest figure recorded since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941 (since surpassed by Tony Gwynn's .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season). His seven batting titles are exceeded only by Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, and Honus Wagner, and matched only by Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial.

Named after the doctor who delivered him on a Panamanian train, Rodney Cline Carew endured brutal, daily beatings at the hands of his father Erick, who refused to sign him up for the Canal Zone Little League; his uncle John French eventually did, and he was so much better than the other kids that he moved up to an adult league, where he was half the age of the other players. Quickly surpassing even this, French kept pushing him up the ladder to more and more difficult leagues, even as his father spiraled into deeper and more frequent alcohol-fueled rages. In 1962, he eventually moved to New York City with his mother Olga.

He didn't play high school ball until his senior year because he had to work to make ends meet. Once on his high school team, the coach inexplicably cut him, but a classmate got him signed up with a City League team. He promptly thrashed the pitching there, catching the eye of Twins scout Herb Stein, who so liked what he saw that he eventually arranged a spring tryout at Yankee Stadium in April, 1964. Three years later he was in a major league uniform, enduring constant and vicious heckling in the still-racist minor leagues.

A master of the drag bunt, he routinely got 20-30 bunt singles a year. Changing his batting stance to accommodate different pitchers, he discovered he hit Nolan Ryan better by crouching low to neutralize Ryan's tactical high fastball. He had a great memory for pitching sequences, too: once, Yankee catcher Thurmon Munson, knowing Carew didn't like chatter in the batter's box, challenged him, asking "What are you gonna do today, big boy?" Carew told him he'd get a hit, and go him one better: he'd call every pitch before Catfish Hunter threw it. He did, and got a double down the left field line.

Rounding out his resume of little ball skills was his ability to steal home, something he accomplished 17 times in his career, seven in his 1967 campaign.

Carew came to the Angels in a 1978 trade, according to some sources one he demanded because of racist comments by Twins owner Clark Griffith. Others cite the new, much higher salaries free agency had brought into the game (Robert Goldman's Once They Were Angels says Griffith's remarks didn't enter into the decision). Regardless, Carew continued his streak of All-Star performances once with California. Now a dedicated first baseman despite a near-complete absence of power (poor footwork and inadequate range had years before pushed him off second base), his presence on the team immediately tripled season ticket sales. But injuries cut down his playing time — he missed over fifty games his first year. Manager Jim Fregosi distrusted Carew before he came to the Angels, accusing him of spiking Bobby Knoop in 1967. It may have affected Carew's misuse in the batting order: Fregosi batted him third, where his bunting skills weren't especially valuable.

He had a brief moment of glory in the Angels' futile 1979 postseason; in the bottom of the ninth of ALCS Game 3, trailing 3-2, he got a one-out double. Don Baylor walked, and then Bobby Grich hit a sinking line drive to center. Rather than waiting to tag up, Carew took a daring chance and dashed home as the ball just got past Orioles centerfielder Al Bumbry. Carew scored on a close play at the plate, and the Angels won the game when Baylor, now at second, easily scored on Larry Harlow's double. It was the Angels' only postseason win that year, or ever to that point.

His last two seasons were both marred by sub-.300 averages and injuries. After retirement, he became a hitting coach for both the Angels and Brewers. His daughter Michelle died in 1996 of leukemia after an extensive search to find a suitable bone marrow donor turned up a match too late to save her life. He successfully lobbied the government to provide funds for bone marrow research, and has dedicated his life to helping children with life-threatening illnesses.

Update: And, yeah, today named as the Angels' "Hometown Hero".

Roberto Kelly LAN b. 1964, played 1995, All-Star: 1992-1993. Not really a bust, not really a great player, he ended up being a chip that brought great regulars to a couple of teams, including Paul O'Neill to the Yankees and Marquis Grissom to the Braves. His All-Star year in 1992 with the Yanks (and the emergence of Bernie Williams) coincided with him getting flipped to the Reds. For the Dodgers, he started in left on the 1995 team following a late May trade with the Expos; that was last Dodgers team to win a division title until 2004.

Fred Kipp BRO,LAN b. 1931, played 1957-1959

Duster Mails BRO b. 1894, played 1915-1916, d. 1974-07-05

Chuck McElroy CAL,ANA b. 1967, played 1996-1997

Jim Russell BRO b. 1918, played 1950-1951, d. 1987-11-24

That's as good a bio of Rod Carew as I'll find outside of reading a biography of the man. For years, I never knew if I liked him as a ballplayer or a man on the simple whim that he wasn't my kind of player. More mature than I was then, I admire and respect him as much as any figure in sports.
I read this as I flipped over to the Baseball Tonight special celebrating MLB's "Hometown Heroes," it looks like we can add that crown to Rod Carew's Angel career.
Carew came to the Angels by trade, not free agency (we gave up All-Stars-to-be Kenny Landreaux and Dave Engle); and in 1979, not '78.
I read the second transaction line on his B-R page, not the first one. Dammit.

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