Friday, July 30, 2010

Remembering Rod Carew, The Magician With A Bat

Rod Carew's "Mod Squad" 1972 Topps baseball card, my favorite!

Rodney Cline Carew...

Three favorite adjectives for him? 
Perfection, effortless, unstoppable...he was the magician with the bat.  He played 12 seasons with the Twins, from 1967 to 1978.  This ended all too abruptly when he left the Twins after 1978 to join the California Angels.  A heartbreaking situation for Twins fans that was, especially considering the team had already lost both Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock the previous year to free agency...

Rodney was a no-brainer all-time Twin and Hall of Fame player the day he left Minnesota.  He's now immortalized in the team's "sculpture garden" (in addition to Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew) on the Plaza outside brand-new Target Field in Minneapolis. He gave fans like me a reason to tune in my radio in the 1970's for late night Twins games on the west coast, when they fielded some pretty mediocre clubs. I mean, the middle infield in the '74 opener was Rod at second, and the hot, new shortstop...Sergio Ferrar?  Exactly. 

Three main memories of him?
*The casual, three-quarters-underhand flip throw to Harmon for the out, second to first...
*The curious running style, his arms held curiously out to his side as if he were holding onto the rails of an escalator...
*The smooth warmup swings before the pitch, before he assumed a bent-over crouch with his bat held parallel to the ground...

Such an idiosyncratic guy.  It seemed as if there were two games going on - the one everyone else was playing, and then his elegant, "my-own-little-universe" version.  A man among boys. He was liable to hit the ball anywhere from the lefthanded batters box - a bleeding, lineshot to the gap in right, a little dinking bloop over the shortstop, or one of his famous bunts down the third baseline. 

No one ever seemed to be in the right spot for those bunts, even if they knew he might lay one down.  No question, he was the best bunter in the second half of the 20th Century. I remember hearing how he'd tap pitches in practice with disgusting regularity in ballbags placed around the grass in the vicinty of home plate
He was born at 7 o' clock in the evening on a train traveling in the Panama Canal Zone on October 1, 1945. His mother, Olga Carew, wanted the birthing to take place at the largest hospital in Panama, Gorgas.  Her reason was practical: so many children were dying at the local facilities in Gatun. The train's bumping along exacerbated matters.  Luckily, a nurse on the train enlisted the aid of a physician, Dr. Rodney Cline, a man in the right place at the right time to have his name linked with baseball history.

The Back Story
Rod and his brother Dickie were verbally and physically abused by his father Eric Carew, a temperamental, drinking man. He would eventually abandon his family. Before that, Rod could tell a whuppin was coming just observing the way his father approached his home on the sidewalk. His Mother, Olga, would jump in front of his blows as he tried to wack away at their sons. Rod used the baseball diamond as a means of escape, as well as recreation; he was initiated into the game using broomsticks for bats and paper bags for gloves in Panama.  That was better than wandering off into the nearby jungle.  Indeed, kids who ventured carelessly could encounter poisonous snakes on the prowl...

And with that depressing genesis, quiet, private Rod Carew would find his identity in playing amateur baseball as a teenager in New York city.  He relocated there in 1961 with his brother, joining their mother. Much of his tutelage took place on fields just a short distance from Yankee Stadium, where the dynastic Yankees of the early '60's reigned. He could hear the roar of the crowd wafting through the air when Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris put a charge into one. 

Legend has it that the Twins were tipped off to his talent that early summer of 1964 by local scout Herb Stein, who saw the 6 foot, 150 pound Rod playing for the New York Cavaliers in the Bronx Federation League (a sandlot outfit).  He took batting practice in the fabled Yankee stadium. The ballpark at that time featured monuments honoring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig right out on the playing surface.  They were near the flagpole in centerfield.  And it didn't seem weird at all. 

Now, of course, we have padded fences, shin guards, elbow guards, et. al.  You'll have to go to another universe to find granite markers on a playing field.  But I digress... 

Even with his skinny frame, he began blasting balls out of the park to all fields while wearing one of Tony Oliva's #6 uniforms  It grew so conspicuous that then-Twins manager Sam Mele hustled him off the field - fearing the Yankees might beat the Twins to the punch and sign him to an amateur free agent contract. Carew remembers catcher Earl Battey coming up to him afterwards, remarking "Hey, how's it goin,' skinny kid?" He signed a free agent minor league contract with the Twins on June 24, 1964.

From Montana Standard (June 28, 1964)

Intriguing, How Things Might Have Been...
1967 Twins Issued Photo:
The Rookie, Rod Carew

Rod played in the Cocoa Rookie League (see minor league stats) that first summer, before moving up to "A" ball for the seasons of 1965 and '66.  It is not well known that the Twins, along with other teams during the Vietnam War era (see "Hardball Times article on major leaguers in 'Nam), had him designated for an early call up to the majors during the 1965 season.  The possiblity existed that players could be selected any time for active duty overseas.  Rookie catcher John Sevcik and second baseman Bernie Allen were both eligible for the draft, but the call never came. Intriguing, the thought of Rod Carew starting at second base against Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in the 1965 World Series! Cool, actually!

Below: boxscore of first spring training game 
played by Rod Carew in Twins uniform
Sunday, March 14, 1965

[picture at left: the Twins middle infield, spring training, 1970]  As it was, he went right from A ball to the major leagues in 1967. But that was only because Twins team owner fought for him to be included onto the opening day roster, over Manager Sam Mele's objections. The skipper wanted to give Carew more seasoning, to develop his fielding prowess.  The curmudgeonly owner prevailed.

Griffith was vindicated as Carew was voted Rookie of The Year in 1967 (voting results).  That was the year the greatest pennant chase in baseball history took place, when 4 teams could have mathematically won the pennant on the last day of the season.  The Red Sox won out over the Twins, Tigers and White Sox for the chance to advance to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. See my post on Rod's Major League Debut, "In The O's Nest."

The Stealer - 1969
Rod and the Twins both had what was considered a subpar year in 1968. Before the 1969 season, he and newly assigned manager Billy Martin retooled his running game and his fielding maneuvers; he also switched to a heavier bat, with a bigger barrel. It forced him to cut back his swing, discourage him from overswinging, and gain bat control.  The result was his first American League batting title, which he corralled by hitting .332.

Remember, this was against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, Led Zepplen, student protests, and civil unrest in many cities nationwide, Chuck Manson (ugh!). But all I remember from that season was a lovely summer, Fourth of July fireworks, my mom, dad and family, swimming outings to nearby lakes...and, of course, the inspired play of a surging baseball team with many, colorful stars - including Rod. He was also participating in National Guard drills during that season (a sure sign of the times!), which took him away from competition for many games at a time.

He also gained notoriety with his seven steals of home (one short of Ty Cobb's season record), a facet of his performance that year recalled wonderfully in the highlighted blog account.

Billy Martin suggested that Carew take a long, walking lead instead of coming to a stop. How long a lead Carew took depended on how close the third baseman was to the bag and whether the pitcher went into his windup or checked him from the stretch position.

Of his seven steals of home during the 1969 season under the approving eye of manager Martin, Rod Carew used the surprise factor five times in the first inning.

[Stealing against Angels, 1969]

''Pitchers,'' Carew has explained, ''don't expect you to take a risk so early and kill off a potential rally.'' Carew also ran in a crouch that, he believed, propelled him toward the plate faster. But he also knew when not to try to steal home. Never with two strikes or three balls on the batter. Never with none out. Even so Carew had six steals of home by June and in July he equaled Pete Reiser's 1941 record. He stole home nine more times in his career, but he was a marked man.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Infinite Cool! Harmon Killebrew Vs Willie Mays - Gillette Homerun Derby,...

Same goes for viewing popups as in Part I. Some good bits, such as at the 2:39 mark! BTY - putting finishing touches on Rod Carew Bio. Have a great week everyone!

May Your Taters Fly Far,
Twinkler Out!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Homerun Derby - Show Opening - Willie Mays vs Harmon Killebrew, 1960

[First of a 4 Part Series]
Besides the actual competition, part of the entertainment and charm of this footage are the short answers the players gave to host Mark Scott's questions. The show's opening sequence is so basic, lighthearted, even rudimentary, and therein lies part of it's charm! I hope you enjoy it!

Note for those of you with You Tube accounts: if you wish to see the "real," behind-the-scenes comments via pop-up video as they happened in 1960, just 1) click once on the video here at Classic Twins, (2) sign-in, and then (3) click on the "annotations" button to get it started!

Nice  interview with Harmon Killebrew about the famous series, and the players he competed against.

May Your Taters Fly Far -
Twinkler Out!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Video Flashback...1982 Minnesota Twins Vs. Rod Carew & Angels!

Super cool! Found this 8mm film while looking for stuff on Bruno, Rodney Carew...great shots of the Twins infield, Castino, Washington, Gaetti, a "skinny" Kent Hrbek, Laudner. Plus excellent side shots of Rod batting, Reggie being a pain in the rear, arguing with ump. Gawd, how cheesy was the Dome? Answer: very.  Twins uniform numbers can be found at Baseball Almanac. Same for the Halos!
Can anyone figure out what the date of this game was, given the info in the video and this link?

May your taters fly far,
Twinkler out!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Target Field Fireworks!

No, I didn't take in the 'works last night, in person.  That was left to my old friend, The Gypsy, AKA: lead guitarist Al of the Twin Cities Band Communist Daughter, whose music was featured prominently between innings at the ballgame.  Here's a link from the knuckleballs blog with some excellent fireworks shots.

BTY, Twins bested the Rays of Florida, 2-1 on Friday night.  Way to go Delmon Young, Dan Valencia and Scott Baker!

My plan is to post a feature on Rod Carew, from the "Remember" series, plus a "Game of The Week" post.  See if you can guess who'll be spotlighted in that one, from a June, 1977 contest.  Three guesses!

Have a great July 4th weekend everyone!

May your taters and bottle rockets fly far,
Twinkler Out!

"The Magician With The Bat"---