This is strictly for the album of Rod Carew's Greatest Hits. It is not going to be some amateur psychological profile of the man, nor a study of the inner workings of his mind, nor a detailed chronology of the close-to 40 years he has spent on the planet, although heaven knows it has been an eventful life. Such mental gymnastics are unnecessary at this point. As Carew's own T-shirt says: "Pushing 40 Is Exercise Enough."
Besides, Rod Carew does not want you probing him, prodding him, pretending to know him inside-out after borrowing a small piece of his precious time. Carew would just as soon you studied him in the batter's box, watched what he does for a living, form your own conclusions--ignorant as they may be--and leave him Garboesquely alone. We have here a man so enigmatic that you risk offending him by describing him as enigmatic.
But enough already; this is becoming an amateur psychological profile. A thousand pardons. Three thousand pardons. It is just that Rod Carew is not always the most cordial fellow in the world, and often leaves you with nothing more than your thoughts about him. Take it from someone who has attempted in three different years, in three different cities, to approach Rod Carew, speak with him, get to know him a little, wish him luck, only to be treated like a bug that has just crawled into the infielder's cereal. At various times in his life, were Rod Carew ever treated by other human beings the way he himself sometimes treats human beings, he surely would have wondered what he ever did to make another man behave so insensitively.
Let us abandon this train of thought, though, before it goes much further. Rod Carew's friends obviously like him, his California Angel teammates certainly like him, his favorite charities adore him, and barely a soul exists who does not admire what Rod Carew can do with a stick of wood. With a baseball bat he is Leonard Bernstein with a baton, Alan Ladd with a gun, Glenda the Good Witch with a wand, Luke Skywalker with a laser. He is a dangerous man with a blunt instrument, so be careful around him.
Carew struck Sunday afternoon against the only other major league team for which he has ever played, the Minnesota Twins, for base hit No. 3,000, becoming the 16th man in history to hit three grand. It was a clothesline single over third baseman Gary Gaetti's head in the third inning off pitcher Frank Viola, and the Angels streamed out of the dugout to embrace Carew on the diamond.
Between innings, Carew addressed the crowd: "I'm just glad it's over. I can sleep at nights now. It's a very emotional thing for me, starting against the Twins, my first team, and getting the hit against them. I'm just happy it happened here so you fans could enjoy it."
The first of 3,000 came more than 18 years ago, on April 11, 1967, against "one of the toughest left-handers ever," in Carew's opinion, Baltimore's Dave McNally. The batter for Minnesota was a spindly, 21-year-old second baseman who had broken into pro baseball two years before with the Melbourne Twins of the Cocoa (Fla.) Rookie League. It was a single, which should come as no surprise. Rod Carew has had 2,360 singles since.
The years prior to that, quickly, just for recorded history's sake, were spent mostly in Panama, where he remains a national hero and citizen. Rodney Cline Carew was born on a train that was taking his mother to a clinic; the baby was delivered by Dr. Rodney Cline. This child grew up so impoverished that occasionally, out of sheer hunger, he would walk into a corner market with a can opener, open some juice, sit in the aisle and drink it. Or he would screw off the lids of peanut-butter jars, finger some into his mouth and return the jar to the shelf.
The child was abused by his father, who eventually became so estranged from his son that he did not show up at Rod and Marilynn Carew's wedding and did not meet his daughter-in-law or grandchildren until 1982. A sign painter, Carew's father often came home from work, found a reason, real or imaginary, to lose his temper, then punished his son by whipping him with an iron cord that he had first soaked in water, or with a leather belt four inches wide. He also punched and kicked his son. That is why, as a grownup, Rod Carew sometimes gives talks at schools in Orange County, not on baseball, but on child abuse.
Rodney Carew could always hit a baseball. He could do it at 10, when he played with much older boys, and he could do it at 15, when his family moved to New York. By the time he got that first hit in the majors, he was a can't-miss sort of kid, the kind who got 514 at-bats in his very first season. He hit .292 for the Twins that season and topped it by 96 points--really, 96 points--a decade later.