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Rod Guru : Angel Hitters Go to Carew, Their Man on the Mountain, and Erupt Like Mount St. Helens

August 13, 1995|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was five hours before a recent game against the Seattle Mariners when Angel hitting instructor Rod Carew arrived in the Anaheim Stadium clubhouse carrying a videotape of the previous game and the notebook in which he keeps a record of every pitch of every at-bat involving his players.

Carew wore jeans and a black T-shirt. Inscribed on the back: "The Older I Get The Better I Was!"

Soon to be 50, the march of time can't improve much on the way Carew was.

His Hall of Fame credentials included 3,053 hits, seven American League batting titles and a .328 career average in 19 years with the Minnesota Twins and the Angels.

He retired after the 1985 season but is still having an offensive impact as the man who has helped mold the surprisingly explosive attack of the team that is running away with the American League West.

Insistent on professionalism in appearance and approach--he is the resident cop who fines players a dozen golf balls if he detects a lack of respect for uniform or game--Carew has Angel hitters polished and prepared.

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Whether it's pitching early batting practice, or supervising the nightly meetings in which his hitters discuss the opposing pitchers, or communicating instructions from the dugout to the batter's box by a piercing whistle and sign language, or dissecting game tapes until 4 a.m., he is tirelessly vigilant--and more.

"I picture Rod as this great guru on top of a mountain in the Andes, only it's a state-of-the-art mountain where he has videotapes of every hitter and every pitcher and people come from all over the world to find a remedy," said Rex Hudler, the Angels' irrepressible utilityman.

"But think about this. He isn't on that mountaintop. He's right here. He's our own. We've got him to ourselves. How selfish is that?"

Carew is in his fourth year as the Angels' hitting instructor. In what has been a consistent reflection of education and maturation, the team batting average in that time has evolved from .243 to .260 to .264 to .288 through Friday, second in the American League to the Cleveland Indians' .291. The Angels lead the major leagues in runs, having scored in double figures 17 times and won eight games by 10 or more runs.

They also lead the league in walks and on-base percentage, reflective of a patient and confident willingness to go deep in the count.

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"Rod's strength is in the area of preparation and mental approach," said Tim Mead, assistant general manager.

"We seldom have a wasted at-bat, and there isn't a pitcher who goes to the mound without our hitters having some familiarity with him."

The Angels opened the season in pursuit of a hitter for the middle of the lineup. The group known as Carew's Crew has responded to the search.

Jim Edmonds, in his second full season, has raised his career average 41 points, is tied for second in the league in runs batted in and seems headed for 30 home runs. J.T. Snow is up 80 points from his career average and has 76 RBIs. Gary DiSarcina, a career .242 hitter, was batting .317 when he went down for the season with a torn thumb ligament. Chili Davis is up 78 points from his career average. Tim Salmon is up 52 points and headed for another blockbuster season of about 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Garret Anderson, who arrives for work even earlier than Carew, could be selected rookie of the year. He's hitting .354 and has 12 home runs in 206 at-bats.

Carew said he takes pride in the success of his young hitters.

"This has been a continual learning process," he said. "It didn't happen overnight. In some cases, it's been two or three years.

"I know how hard they've worked, so there's a lot of gratification when they become successful with some of the things I've suggested.

"I can't help but smile when I see them smiling."

Snow said: "Some of us took a beating for a couple of years before we saw the light. In my case, I hit a lot of home runs early and thought that's what first basemen are supposed to do. Rod finally convinced me that I'm more of a line-drive and gap hitter, that I can drive in a lot of runs without hitting home runs.

"Most hitting instructors preach a certain style, but Rod takes what you've got and works around it. His emphasis is on the mental side. Patience. Pitch selection. Familiarity with the pitcher. His emphasis is on making every at-bat a good one."

Carew was basically a contact hitter who used the entire field.

Patience?

"Rod Carew could hit .300 walking to the plate with an 0-and-2 count," said Mariner Manager Lou Piniella, a hitter's hitter himself.

"I finished about five points behind him in the batting race one year and felt I had won the title."

Carew said it doesn't matter what type of hitter he was because he can adjust to any style and doesn't make the mistake most hitting instructors do, trying to apply the same swing to every hitter.

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