By Bijan C. Bayne
Rod Carew handled the bat like a magic wand. What he lacked in power, he made up in skill, averaging .328 over 17 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. No Latino has batted higher and only 33 other major leaguers hit better in their careers. On the 50th anniversary of his debut — and six months after he survived heart and kidney transplants — we celebrate his life and causes. With a nod to his SABR biography by Joseph Wancho, here are 29 things that you should know about Rodney Cline Carew.
1. Rod Carew was born on October 1, 1945 on a train in the Canal Zone of Panama — his mother gave birth while on the way to Gorgas Hospital in Ancón, but only made it as far as Gatún.
2. On the train, a physician named Dr. Rodney Cline delivered the baby boy. Which is why his parents named him Rodney Cline Carew.
3. Carew’s immediate family members called him “Cline.”
4. He had rheumatic fever as late as age 12.
5. Carew played Little League ball in Gamboa, earning a Ted Williams model bat for his outstanding play.
6. A nurse named Margaret Allen, who assisted with Carew’s birth, became his godmother and later helped his mother Olga move, along with her children, from Panama to New York City.
7. Rod Carew attended George Washington High School in Washington Heights in upper or alto Manhattan. Other prominent alumni include actor and singer Harry Belafonte, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, la Reina del Merengue Milly Quezada, and much later, Manny Ramírez.
8. Carew never played for his high school team. While some say that his coach felt he wasn’t good enough, his SABR biography says that Carew focused on “school and work,” staying after class to master English and keep his grades up.
9. Carew played for a sandlot baseball team named the Bronx Cavaliers — also known as the New York Cavaliers — often at Macombs Dam Park, in the shadow of the old Yankee Stadium.
10. The Minnesota Twins signed Carew based upon his sandlot play. They tried him out while they were in town to play the Yankees. He signed for $5,000 and played for $400 a month in rookie ball.
11. Like Roberto Clemente, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps to fulfill his military obligation and served an additional 5½ years in the reserves.
12. Rod Carew made his major-league debut on April 11, 1967 against the Orioles at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. His first at-bat came in the second inning against lefty Dave McNally. He singled and went 2-for-4 on the day.
13. In 1969, Twins manager Billy Martin convinced the young Carew to incorporate more base stealing and running into his game. That season Carew stole home seven times — one shy of Ty Cobb’s 1912 record.
14. Over his career, Carew stole home 17 times. Cobb holds the MLB record with 54.
15. On June 22, 1970, Carew was hitting .374 when he suffered torn ligaments in the left knee after a sliding Mike Hegan attempted to take him out while turning a double play.
16. In October 1970 Carew married Marilynn Levy, an interracial and interfaith marriage that incited death threats. Carew was a black Latino Episcopalian and Levy was white and Jewish.
17. Contrary to popular belief, Rod Carew never converted to Judaism.
18. Carew hit .300 during 15 straight seasons.
19. Carew won seven American League batting titles.
20. Carew won the batting title in 1972 without hitting a home run.
21. Carew had a salary dispute in 1975, when owner Calvin Griffith told him he didn’t hit enough home runs to earn the amount for which he asked. When the Twins traded Carew to the Angels in 1979, he went from making $200,000 annually to $800,000.
22. Rod Carew’s great work spread beyond ballparks. In 1975, he received the Order of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Panamá’s highest award. In 1977, he was honored with the Roberto Clemente Award.
23. In 1977, Carew’s race to hit .400 earned him the cover of TIME magazine and lead stories on the nightly network newscasts. He batted .388 that season. Only George Brett — who hit .390 in 1980 — and Tony Gywnn — who averaged .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season — have hit higher since.
24. On August 4, 1985, Carew became the 16th player — and second Latino after Clemente — to reach 3,000 hits. He singled off Minnesota lefthander Frank Viola in the third inning.
26. Carew’s 18-year-old daughter Michelle was diagnosed with leukemia in September of 1995, He led a campaign to find a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant, but she died in April 1996. Carew’s efforts increased registry rolls by 500,000 the first year. Bone marrow donation registry is still a cause that he supports.
27. Over the past two years, Carew has had a massive heart attack, a six-hour open heart surgical procedure and an operation to drain a pair of blood clots on his brain.
28. Using his uniform number, Rod Carew and the American Heart Association founded a “Heart of 29” awareness and prevention campaign.
29. Carew received a new heart and kidney in a transplant last year, courtesy of the late Baltimore Ravens tight end Konrad Reuland, who died on Dec. 12 of a brain aneurysm. Four days later, his organ donations saved Carew’s life. Coincidently or not, Reuland was 29 years old. To quote Carew, it has been a “tough journey.” But he is regaining his health and since early June has begun making public appearances.
Bijan C. Bayne is the author of Elgin Baylor: The Man Who Changed Basketball. He may be contacted at @bijancbayne on Twitter
Featured Image: Minnesota Twins
Inset Images: Minnesota Twins / National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum