Rod Carew has a Hall of Fame attitude toward the sports memorabilia industry, especially card shows, putting him on par with Harmon Killebrew and Brooks Robinson. Seriously.
Despite the serious game face he wore through his big league career, Carew has morphed into a hobby hero.
Take, for instance, his baseball cards, which date back to his 1967 Topps rookie card (No. 569). Carew has all of his cards and enjoys looking at them. He said the cards makers did a good job with his cards.
“I had so many different cards, and I looked different in each one,” Carew said. “As I look back at my cards, I see that I was not a very friendly guy because I was quiet and people thought that I was aloof. So when I look back at my cards, I can understand what they meant.”
So who is the real Rod Carew?
“I’m just a normal guy. I don’t think that I’m different from anyone else or better than anyone else,” he said. “I was just gifted with something that God gave me, which gave me the ability to go out there and play the game. But I do respect people and what they do. And always have. We all come from different backgrounds with different skills and traits.”
Carew’s caring approach to others certainly is seen on the card show circuit, such as his recent appearance at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mt. Clemens, Mich. Smiles and handshakes were commonplace.
“When I come to do a show, I want people to be comfortable,” he said. “I think it’s important we as players are providing a service to these people, so we have to be nice; that’s the most important thing. I like talking to the people. I like saying ‘Hello’ to them. I like taking pictures with them. I don’t want them to just rush through the line. If they have a question, they can ask it and I’ll answer. I never want to sign an autograph and just hand it to the person while looking down. I’ve heard that a lot of guys don’t do it like that, but I do.
“Of all the shows I’ve ever done, I don’t think anyone can say that I have not said, ‘Thank you’ to every single person. I just think it’s important,” Carew continued. “When I come to shows, I enjoy myself, and I want the show attendees to as well.”
Carew is amazed at some of the material he sees at shows.
“It’s amazing all of the stuff out there. I look at some of the stuff that people bring to be signed and say, ‘Wow, where’d you get this? When did this come out? How long have you had this?’ ” Carew said. “Some collectors seem to find things that I didn’t even know existed.”
Carew was a Hall of Fame infielder who played for the Minnesota Twins from 1967-78, then for the California Angels from 1979-85. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1967, the American League MVP in 1977 and an AL All-Star annually from 1967-84. Carew also won the AL batting title in 1969, 1972-75 and 1977-78. Carew was also a three-time American League leader in base hits.
Carew had a .328 lifetime batting average, accumulating 3,053 hits and 1,015 RBIs. Other Carew career statistics include 92 home runs, 445 doubles and 112 triples in his 19-year career. Plus, he stole 353 bases, including home plate 17 times.
All of these accolades helped Carew become a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1991.
Rodney Cline “Rod” Carew was born to a Panamanian mother on a train in the town of Gatun, which is in the Panama Canal Zone. As the train was segregated, Carew’s black mother was forced to ride in a rear car. When his mother went into labor, a doctor named Rodney Cline delivered her baby. In appreciation, the baby was named after the doctor.
“When people ask me to sign my full name, that can be tricky,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I was asked to sign my full name, so I don’t always remember how to.”
Carew attended George Washington High School in New York, and one day after graduating, he signed a contract with the Twins.
“I once was asked to sign a second baseman’s glove, which I supposedly used as a rookie and in an All-Star Game. But it wasn’t actually the glove. It was someone else’s glove because I had my (rookie year) second baseman’s glove at home,” he said, laughing.
Carew said he has always collected, and that he often went to shows with his daughters.
Carew’s collection includes signatures from other Hall of Famers, MVP winners and Cy Young award-winners. His signed baseball collection includes those who he respects. That includes Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Roger Clemens, Sadaharu Oh, Cecil Fielder, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and others.
His autograph wish list includes Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
“It’d be a treat to get something from them,” Carew said.
Carew has donated most of his game-used memorabilia to charitable causes.
“I’ve always felt that if they can use the memorabilia to raise funds to help out, why not?” he said.
However, he still has his rookie-year second baseman’s glove.
“It’s patched up, torn up, but I still have it,” he said.
“I enjoyed my career,” Carew said. “When I put the uniform on and was on the field, I was all business and did not want to get distracted. I worked hard at it. People have always said that I made it look so easy, but I put a lot of hard work into it because I was never satisfied with what I did. I always wanted to do a little better.”
Would Carew do anything different?
“I’d smile a little more,” he said.
“People have often said, ‘You have a great smile, you ought to smile more.’ But I never did while playing. I was always so serious and went about things in such a serious way.”
Serious, though, was good – at least if you were on Carew’s team. Take, for instance, a 1977 game when he got six standing ovations in Minnesota against the Chicago White Sox.
“I think that topped anything I did,” he said.
Carew was, you see, chasing the elusive .400 average.
“Every time I got a base hit, they’d stand up and give me a standing ovation,” he said.
Carew went four-for-five that day with several RBIs.
“It was just one of those days that actually was embarrassing to me because I hated coming up and down the dugout steps to salute the ovation,” he said.
Carew said his uncanny ability to steal home is mainly credited to Billy Martin, who suggested Carew practice the move during spring training.
“The reason was Martin thought I had the speed to do it, and he said that there were times when we might be in an offensive slump, so we might have to steal a run in the late part of a game,” Carew recalled. “He asked if I’d be willing to learn how to steal home, and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’
“I studied different pitchers’ wind-ups, then tried it in a spring training game and liked it.”
Carew said he gave the hitter a sign that he was going to steal home, and the batter had to acknowledge him before he broke from third.
“If he didn’t answer me, I wouldn’t try,” Carew said. “The key was to get a good, short, walking lead, and also time the pitcher’s wind-up to determine what point I was going to take off. After the first couple times I did it, it became real easy.”
But Carew said not to expect stealing home to become part of normal baseball strategy in today’s game.
“I think the only way it’s going to happen is on the backend of a double-steal,” he said. “One of the reasons is once you get over to third base now, they’re always looking at you. They don’t use a full wind-up anymore, and they hold runners on.
“Whenever I stole home, it was a feeling of excitement. Coming down that line and knowing tat, if everything went as planned timing-wise, they had no chance of getting you out. That was the exciting part of it."
Carew was caught stealing home once in Seattle, or so the umpire said.
“I was safe because J.C. Hartman dropped the ball, but umpire John Honochick didn’t see him drop the ball and he called me out. Billy Martin went nuts,” Carew said. “I was caught once against Tommy John, who had a very slow wind-up, but they got me.”
Carew’s batting average ended at .388 in 1977 which, at the time, was the highest since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Batting .400, though, was never something Carew thought about.
“It wasn’t something that I ever set out to do. The only thing I was concerned about was getting base hits. (Batting) .400 was the furthest thing from my mind.”
So will someone ever hit .400?
“Someone who can run, someone who is not afraid to take walks, someone who gets a lot of infield hits,” Carew said of what it will take for some to hit .400 again. “Someone like Ichiro has a chance to do it.
“I enjoy watching him because he does so much on the field. He’s a complete player. I really like that he uses the whole field to hit, moves the ball around and just does an amazing job at the plate.”
Carew also praised the offensive skills of Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the latter of which he watched grow up.
Carew now works for the Commissioner’s Office and for the Twins. He is on the Rules Committee and works in its international division. He has been a broadcaster for the Twins, among other things.
But he tries not to wear a major league uniform after his playing days – intentionally.
At spring training, for instance, he wears a T-shirt, windbreaker and pants.
“I just figured that once I took it off, it’s off for good,” he said.