The Twins and White Sox were playing on a night in the 1970s, and from a broadcast booth at Comiskey Park, Harry Caray noted an opponent’s arrival in the lefthanded batter’s box by bellowing:
“With a name like Rod Carew, you have to be able to hit.”
Thanks to action taken by Major League Baseball earlier this month, generations of baseball fans not yet born will be hearing a reference to the American League’s Rod Carew Batting Champion, and asking their home information robot what it knows about this man.
“Rodney Cline Carew, born on a train in the Panama Canal Zone on October 1, 1945,” the robot will respond. “And he could hit.”
The Silver Bat that goes to a major league batting champion offers a cleanness of grandeur that might make it the most impressive trophy in sport. It is a 34-inch bat that is sterling plated and weighs 56 ounces. It is embossed with the player’s autograph and his winning average for the year.
Rod Carew has seven of these, all from his 12 seasons (1967-78) with the Twins. Tony Gwynn collected eight in the National League. That league’s top average hitter now will be the Tony Gwynn Batting Champion.
“Tony and I had a photo taken together as a fundraiser for a friend,” Carew said. “It was impressive to see those 15 silver bats.”
The announcement of the new titles for the batting champions was made at the All-Star Game on July 12 in San Diego, where the late Mr. Gwynn was the ultimate sports hero.
An appearance there was the start of what has become a hectic couple of weeks for Carew, when you consider he is walking around with a battery pack for the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that has served as his heart since last September.
Rodney was lost to a heart attack twice on Sept. 20, after collapsing at the start of a solo round at Cresta Verde Golf Course in Corona, Calif. He was saved by paramedics on the clubhouse floor, and then in an emergency room.
Once stabilized to the point he could tolerate surgery, the LAVD was installed in a six-hour, open-heart procedure at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. Carew and his wife, Rhonda, did not go public with all of this until late November. The word at the time was he was on the list to receive a donor heart.
Rodney was merely in the process of getting on such a list. He will spend much of July 29 receiving a checkup that could be the final step for getting on the donor-heart list at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“Once Rodney is on the list, we have to be within four hours of the hospital at all times,” Rhonda Carew said. “And that’s four hours from our door to the operating table. We’re about 75 miles away.”
L.A. traffic? “We should be good, but we’re also thinking about having a helicopter on call,” she said.
The Carews were at the All-Star events in San Diego. They got home for one day, then flew to the Twin Cities to participate in the Twins’ Hall of Fame ceremonies for Torii Hunter and John Gordon last weekend at Target Field.
They stayed in the Twin Cities for a couple of days and then went to Boston for Thursday’s Heart of 29 event in Fenway Park. The Red Sox became the latest team to participate in Heart of 29 — Carew’s campaign to raise awareness and funds for the American Heart Association.
“The No. 1 thing we’re doing is telling people, ‘get checked’ — don’t let a heart attack sneak up on you like it did me,” Carew said.
Is the baseball-filled July wearing him out? “I’m doing OK,” Carew said. “People seem happy to see me, so it’s been enjoyable.”
He is among the Hall of Famers gathered in Cooperstown, N.Y., for induction weekend. The Hall of Fame lined up a car in Boston that drove Rodney and Rhonda to Cooperstown on Friday.
“The ride will be more relaxing for Rod than going through the whole airport thing,” Rhonda said from Boston. “It’s a long way from Southern California to Cooperstown, but it’s also our favorite trip every year. The Hall of Fame treats its members, treats everyone, spectacularly.”
The players being inducted Sunday are Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. Griffey is known far and wide as “Junior,” but he’s not the first Hall of Famer with that nickname.
Harmon Killebrew started referring to Carew as “Junior” as a young teammate, and it was a term of affection that he used through his lifetime.
And it isn’t it great that 10 months after he seemed lost to a heart attack, Junior Carew will be on the Cooperstown stage to offer a handshake to Junior Griffey.