Rod Carew won seven batting titles for his talent of carefully placing base hits all over the diamond. Playing for the Twins and the Angels, Carew had more hits than any player to never have played in a World Series.
Born in the Panama Canal zone, Carew learned to hit tennis balls and wads of paper taped into a ball. When he was 16 his mother took the family to New York City to live with Rod’s godmother. Carew grew up not far from the old Polo Grounds, and near Yankee Stadium.
He began his career as a second baseman, but he was never much of a fielder. He won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1967 and was an All-Star for the first of 18 consecutive seasons. He garnered his first batting title in 1969, despite missing two-weeks and several weekends for military commitments. In 1970 he missed three months with torn cartilage after a runner collided with him at the keystone on June 22nd.
In 1972 he won the first of four straight batting titles, joining Ty Cobb as the only players to do so in the American League. By that time he was an accomplished bunter – beating out 27 of 35 bunt attempts for hits in ‘72. In both 1973 and 1974 he topped the loop in hits.
In 1976 his string of four straight batting titles was halted when he lost the crown on the final day of the season to George Brett. It was one of the most controversial batting races in history. That season he was moved from second base to play first, a position he held the rest of his career.
Carew had his career year in 1977 when he made a serious run at the .400 batting mark, last attained by Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Williams believed Carew had an excellent chance to reach .400, especially considering his speed.
Carew followed his 1977 masterpiece with his final batting title in 1978, hitting .333. But during the season he entered a war of words with Twins owner Calvin Griffith. The two debated his salary for 1979, and Carew hinted he would like to be traded to a contending team, and soon the Yankees, Giants, and Angels were making offers. He eventually was dealt to the California Angels in spring training 1979. That season he helped the team to the playoffs, his first taste of post-season since 1970.
In the following seasons he continued to top the .300 mark and fit nicely in the middle of the Angels star-studded lineup. In 1982 the Halos returned to the ALCS, losing in heartbreaking fashion. Carew managed just a .176 batting average. For his career, Carew batted .220 (11-for-50) with one RBI in 14 playoff games.
During the ’82 campaign, Carew suffered three hairline fractures in his right hand after punching Twins pitcher Darrell Jackson. Jackson had triggered a brawl when he knocked down several Angel batters, including the normally mild-mannered Carew. Despite the injury, Carew put together his longest hitting streak – 25 games.
In 1983 Carew got off to one of the fastest starts in baseball history, and on May 7 he was leading the league with an amazing .500 average. Of course he tapered off, but still hit .300 for the final time despite injuries. Two seasons later, in 1985, he collected his 3,000th hit off Twins left-hander Frank Viola on August 4th. That season, after batting a respectable (for anyone else) .280, he retired with 3,053 base hits after no team showed interest in his free agency. Both the Twins and the Angels retired his uniform #29. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1991.