Saturday night was Minnesota Twins night at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids. The rains came, but there was an excitement because Twins great Rod Carew made the trek to Iowa. Before the game, he was briefly in the Kernels locker room. He then spent over an hour signing autographs and shaking hands with fans that lined up, around several corners, trying to meet the Hall of Famer. He joined Morgan Hawk, the Kernels radio man who was also on TV locally on that night, for the first two innings.
At that time, he was made available to the media. He spent 15 minutes talking about all kinds of topics with the small group. Here is Part 1 of that interview, a look at his career. In the next two days, I'll post two more parts of the interview.
Of course, the first question he was asked was if he had been to Cedar Rapids previously, he said that he had. “It was in the dead of winter and it was cold.”
Carew never played in Cedar Rapids. The 68-year-old spent just over two years in the minor leagues before he advanced to the big leagues. He made us aware of an interesting rule from a previous era. “Back then, they could take 28 guys north, and at the end of the month they cut down to 25 man rosters.”
The Twins history is rich. He played his first big league game with the Twins on April 11, 1967. Carew talked about debuting with the Twins, with some great teammates. “As a 20-year-old kid coming up and being on the same club as Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Oliva, and Jim Kaat, and Mudcat Grant, and Earl Battey. Those are guys that I learned a lot from, especially Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, and we remained friends until his death.”
He said that he continues to think about Killebrew frequently since he passed away a couple of years ago. “It’s still hard. We know we’re not going to live forever, but when you get close to someone. He was my mentor. I learned so much from him, and then to lose him. I still think about him. My wife and I were just talking about Harmon a couple of days ago, about his passing, so he’s always here, he’s always in my heart.”
He continued, “One thing I learned from Harmon is that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. And so, when he told me that, I thought to myself that I would go through the rest of my life, no matter what happens, I’m always going to be nice.”
Last week marked 50 years since the Minnesota Twins signed Carew out of high school in New York City. Asked to reflect on that time, he said, “You know, I never thought that I would accomplish the things I accomplished in baseball. As a young kid, you hope that you do well, but I never thought I would go on and do the things that I did. But I was fortunate, I had people around me that worked with me and talked to me, so that helped. I was blessed with God-given talent, but having God-given talent is not all that it is. You also have to work. You have to continue honing those skills or trying to get better."
And to be an all-time great, Carew had to have a competitive edge. “I was greedy. I was never satisfied. If I had three hits one day, I wanted four. If I had four hits one day, I wanted five.” He continued, “That was my mentality. I learned that from being Tony Oliva’s roommate for ten years. He always used to tell me, ‘Rookie, get as many base hits as you can.’ So I was very fortunate.”
Carew's numbers are remarkable. In 19 years, he hit .328/.393/.429 (.822). He finished his career with 3,053 hits. He was an 18-time All Star. He won seven batting champions. He had six Top 10 finishes in MVP voting and won the 1977 award. That season was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in Twins history. He hit .388/.449/.570 (1.059). His OPS+ was 178! He had 239 hits including 38 doubles, 16 triples, 14 homer runs, drove in 100 and scored 128 runs.
He played his final game on October 5, 1985, and in 1991, he was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame.
What does it mean to be a Hall of Famer to Rod Carew? “HOF means you’re at the top of your profession. And to be in the same place with Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Christy Matthewson, and Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson and all those great players. As a young kid, you don’t think about that. You don’t think about playing to get to the HOF. You’re thinking about playing and surviving and hoping you stay healthy to do good things. I was fortunate to do that. It’s one of the greatest fraternities in the world. When we get together Hall of fame weekend, we have a good time. Pitchers talk about how they used to get you out, and hitters talk about how many HR they used to hit off of you. It’s just a great time that we have together.”
Over the next couple of days, I'll continue to post Mr. Carew's comments regarding several topics including what he tells young players and how the game is different today than in his era.