Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn were names synonymous with hitting when I was growing up. Major League Baseball got something right last night at the 87th Annual All-Star Game when they had a special pre-game ceremony to rename the AL & NL batting titles after 2 of the games greatest hitters Carew & Gwynn.
When I was growing up and started following baseball Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn were both two players I followed closely (Yes I am that old to have seen both players play live). I followed Carew much more closely because I was an Angels fan and he was one of our best players. I also followed Gwynn because he played for a California-based team that I could see play every now and again. The fact that they were both left-handed batters like me also made them more special.
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The other thing that always led to my favoring these two baseball legends is that these were two of my dad’s favorite players along with Nolan Ryan and Tony Oliva. I loved watching Carew hit, he was a magician and he could make the ball go almost anywhere he wanted. I tried to emulate his swing many times growing up, without very much success (there is only one Rod Carew).
As many people know Rod Carew did not spend his whole career with the Angels, although to me it felt like that as I had never seen him play for the Twins (Carew was traded to the Angels in the winter after the 1978 season).
One of my best Rod Carew memories was on August 4th, 1985 when my Grandpa Bill and two of my best friends Dave and Mike Leboff and I were blessed to be at the game against the Minnesota Twins that day to watch history. Rod Carew carved a place into baseball immortality that afternoon with an opposite-field single off of Twins pitcher Frank Viola in the third inning. It was the first baseball milestone I had ever seen live so it was pretty special. What made it even more special was being there with my grandfather and two of my best friends.
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(One sidenote, the night before Carew had recorded three hits going into his final at-bat and was one away from 3,000. My friends Dave, Mike, and I sat in their living room listening to the game on the radio as hardly any Angels home games were broadcast on TV at the time. In the 7th inning Carew stepped up and Angels radio announcer Dick Enberg says “There’s a line drive headed for left field. No!! Ron Washington leaps up and snares it robbing Rod Carew of hit #3,000. Oh My!” So if not for Ron Washington, yes the same Ron Washington who managed the Texas Rangers to the World Series, we never would have seen history live.).
Rod Carew was an amazing player totally worthy of this honor of having the AL Batting Title award named after him. Carew won seven batting titles and was an 18-time AL All-Star. Carew also won the AL MVP Award in 1977 when he batted a career-high .388 with 14 home runs and 100 RBI’s. His career average was .328 and he had 57 games with four or more hits in his 19 year career. Carew batted .300 or better in 15 consecutive seasons, including his first five seasons in Anaheim from 1979-1983.
Carew has the second highest average during his Angels career of any players as he has a .314 batting average during his seven year career in Anaheim. He also has the second highest on-base-percentage at .393 behind current Angel Mike Trout (.399).
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Carew was inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame having his #29 jersey retired on August 6, 1991 and he was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame a little more than two weeks earlier on July 21, 1991. Carew and his family were honored in a pre-game ceremony Tuesday night before the All-Star Game along with Gwynn, whose family accepted the award on his behalf for the Padres star who passed away just over a year ago from cancer.
Just like with Carew I did see Gwynn play multiple times throughout his career. I was privileged to see him play during the final home series of his Major League career in San Diego on Saturday September 25, 2001. I don’t remember what he did in the game except for getting an RBI-Single. What actually stuck out more was all the U.S.A. chants the crowd did throughout the game as this was only two weeks after 9/11 occurred. However, I do remember Gwynn’s final at-bat he got about a two-minute standing ovation. It was a very moving tribute which Gwynn justly deserved.
With the AL and NL batting titles being renamed to honor these two great hitters, Major League Baseball did something right. This is a great honor for both players and I’m glad to have witnessed it and so was my father.