Thursday, August 24, 2023

Rod Carew’s Seven Batting Titles and the Players He Denied the Honor by Annually Capturing the Crown

During Rod Carew’s Hall of Fame baseball career, his name became synonymous with winning batting championships.  Carew made his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins in 1967 and earned his first AL batting crown in 1969.  He then proceeded to dominate the 1970s, leading the AL in batting average on six occasions during the decade—four times in a row from 1972 to 1975 and back-to-back in 1977 and 1978.  All told, Carew secured seven batting titles, each of which came over a ten-year stretch from 1969 to 1978.  For players who plied their trade in the AL during this era, winning the batting crown proved to be a particularly difficult feat as they essentially had to go through Carew to achieve the honor.  What’s more, only two of Carew’s seven batting titles were decided in a remotely close battle as he usually ran away from the pack and won by as much as forty or even fifty-plus points over his nearest rival, in effect creating a “best of the rest” scenario for the remainder of the AL.  With this in mind, I decided to research which players were denied the opportunity to win the batting crown by the presence of a perennial top dog such as Carew.

Carew burst onto the big league scene at age 21 in 1967 and immediately established himself as a skilled hitter, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award after posting a .292 batting average that ranked sixth-highest in the junior circuit.  In addition to claiming top rookie honors, he also represented the AL as the team’s starting second baseman in the All-Star Game.  Carew’s All-Star selection marked the first of what would be an incredible 18-straight trips to the Midsummer Classic for the future Hall of Famer.  During an era filled with “all-glove, no-bat” type players manning the middle infield, Carew’s superb hitting noticeably stood out as AL second basemen as a whole hit just .245 in 1967.  Carew took a step back during his sophomore campaign, batting .273.  However, he got off to a blistering start in 1969, finishing May with a sizzling .403 average.  On the strength of his excellent start, Carew was able to maintain a healthy lead and win his first batting title with a .332 mark.  The battle for runner-up proved to be a close one with Boston Red Sox center fielder Reggie Smith securing the bridesmaid position by the slimmest of margins ahead of Carew’s teammate and good friend Tony Oliva as both sluggers ended the season at .309.  The difference came down to less than a point as Smith’s .3094 mark bested the .3093 figure of Oliva while Baltimore Orioles right fielder Frank Robinson finished just a tick behind in fourth place with a .308 average.  Since Carew’s arrival in the big leagues, Oliva had acted as a veteran mentor for the youngster.  Years later, Carew reflected on winning his first batting crown while leaving Oliva and the rest of the AL in his wake saying, “It was like beating my teacher.”  The Twins spent nearly the whole season atop the AL West and comfortably won the division title but were subsequently swept by the AL East-champion Orioles in the ALCS.  Carew drew MVP support for the first time, classifying 10th in the election.  Smith’s runner-up finish marked the closest the slugger would come to winning a batting crown.  Smith cracked the top 10 in average three more times in his career, peaking at seventh in the AL the following year.  The relative ease with which Carew won his first batting title is particularly impressive considering that his season was interrupted on multiple occasions by military obligations which required him to spend one weekend per month and two full weeks in August with the US Marine Reserves.

Carew got off to another blistering start in 1970 and was leading the AL with a .376 batting average on June 22 when disaster stuck.  In the process of turning a double play, Carew suffered a broken left leg when Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Mike Hegan upended the keystoner while attempting to break up the twin-killing.  The injury kept Carew out of action until September 22, leaving him well shy of the required plate appearances to qualify for the batting crown.  For the second year in a row, Minnesota won the AL West title but once again were swept by Baltimore in the ALCS.  With Carew out of the running for the batting crown, California Angels left fielder Alex Johnson paced the junior loop with a .329 average.  Fully healthy in 1971, Carew slotted fifth in the AL with a .307 mark while Tony Oliva earned the third and final batting title of his career with a .337 average.  Yet, Oliva’s and Carew’s strong hitting could not keep the Twins from tumbling out of contention and finishing the campaign in fifth place with a 74-86 record.

During Carew’s initial two seasons in MLB, batting average and scoring had declined to alarmingly low levels.  In an effort to increase offense, MLB reduced the height of the pitching mound for the 1969 campaign.  However, in 1972, the AL saw a temporary drop in both batting average and scoring that mirrored the 1967 and 1968 seasons.  Carew returned to the head of the AL leaderboard during the offense-starved 1972 campaign, collecting his second batting crown with a .318 figure that was by far his lowest average in the seven seasons he claimed top honors.  At the time, Carew’s .318 average also represented the fifth-lowest mark produced by a batting champion in the 72-year history of the junior circuit.  While Carew captured the 1969 batting title after racing out to a big lead, in 1972 he came from behind to win.  At the All-Star break, a trio of Kansas City Royals outfielders occupied the top-three spots with right fielder Richie Scheinblum’s .324 average leading the respective .317 and .314 clips of left fielder Lou Piniella and center fielder Amos Otis.  Carew ranked a few positions lower, finishing the first half in sixth place with a .301 average.  However, Carew’s bat heated up in August as he hit .359 for the month and began climbing up the leaderboard.  Going into September, Carew sat third with a .316 average, trailing the .318 figure of Chicago White Sox first baseman Dick Allen who held a hairline advantage of less than a point over Scheinblum.  An offseason trade acquisition for Chicago, Allen was in the process of putting together a brilliant campaign as he challenged for the Triple Crown—entering the season’s final month atop the batting average, home run, and RBI leaderboards—while keeping the surprising White Sox within striking distance of the first-place Oakland Athletics in the AL West division title hunt.  Allen and Carew traded the batting lead back and forth early in the month before the Twins keystoner took over for good on September 9 and finished the year with an AL-best .318 mark.  In contrast to his fellow Royals outfielders who each faded from contention, Piniella remained in the batting race and came on strong at the very end, closing the campaign with four consecutive multi-hit games to snag the runner-up position with a .312 average.  Allen easily secured the home run and RBI leads but slipped to third in the batting race, barely edging teammate Carlos May, as both finished at .308 with Allen’s .3083 figure a whisker ahead of May’s .3078.  Piniella’s and Allen’s respective second and third-place results represented high-water marks for each player, though Piniella slotted fourth two seasons later during his initial campaign with the New York Yankees and repeated the ranking in 1978 when he helped the club win the World Series championship.

After capturing his second batting title, Carew reflected on the advice Tony Oliva gave him during his rookie campaign.  “He told me not to worry about who was pitching, or what pitch he might be throwing,” Carew explained.  “He said I should just concentrate on hitting the ball.  It’s something I’ve tried to do all the time.  If you do that, you don’t guess, and guessing is the worst habit you can develop as a hitter.  When you guess, you get fooled and you lose your timing.”  While Carew took home his second batting title in 1972, the season was a lost one for Oliva who missed all but 10 games due to a knee injury.  With the Twins offense weakened by the loss of Oliva, the team finished a distant third in the AL West after posting a 77-77 record.  Though the junior circuit’s introduction of the designated hitter during the following season enabled Oliva to play for four more years, the slugger was never able to rediscover the form that made him a perennial contender and three-time winner of the batting crown.  Allen won the AL MVP Award by a wide margin—garnering 21 of 24 first-place votes—while Carew classified 14th in the election.  On completely opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of power hitting, Allen clubbed a loop-high 37 long balls as Carew earned the unique distinction of becoming the first AL player to win a batting title without going deep.

Following a noticeable downturn in average and scoring in 1972, AL offense returned to more normal levels in 1973.  Carew got off to slow start, batting just .246 in April.  However, he quickly regained his hitting stroke, assumed the batting lead during the second half of June and never looked back, easily claiming the honor for a third time.  Carew ended the year with a .350 mark, boasting a forty-plus point advantage over the rest of the field.  Similar to 1969, the battle for runner-up came down to a minuscule difference as Milwaukee Brewers first baseman George Scott and Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Tommy Davis each finished at .306 with the former’s .3063 mark barely nosing out the latter's .3062 figure.  Scott’s .306 average proved to be a career-high for the slugger who had previously slotted in the AL top five once before in 1967 when he ranked fourth with a .303 mark.  Davis’ third-place finish was his best result since capturing back-to-back NL batting crowns as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962 and 1963.  Neither Scott nor Davis came close to contending for a batting title over the remainder of their careers.  Although junior circuit offense as a whole picked back up in 1973, had Carew not been there to dominate the number-one spot, Scott would have paced the loop while posting the second-worst average for a batting champion, with only Carl Yastrzemski’s AL-topping .301 mark from 1968 representing a lower figure.  In addition to leading in average, Carew also paced the circuit with 203 hits and 11 triples.  Minnesota repeated its third-place finish from 1972, once again concluding the campaign at exactly .500, going 81-81 on this occasion.  With his lofty batting average, Carew drew greater support from MVP voters and slotted in a three-way tie for fourth in the election.

In contrast to the previous season, Carew came out of the gate strong in 1974, beginning the year in grand fashion by notching a .398 average in April.  Carew’s bat continued to sizzle as he sported a .400-plus mark for much of May and early June.  While Carew’s average hovered around .400 during the opening months of the campaign, he had unlikely company at the top of the leaderboard in Oakland Athletics right fielder Reggie Jackson.  Known much more for posting eye-popping home run figures and alarming strikeout totals than for producing high batting averages, Jackson stayed in close proximity to Carew through the end of May.  Following a May 22 game against Minnesota, Jackson, who had won the prior season’s AL MVP while pacing the junior circuit in home runs and RBI remarked, “I could win the Triple Crown if Rod Carew retires before he gets the required plate appearances.”  Jackson subsequently faded from contention in June and finished the year ranked 17th in the AL with a .289 average.  As Jackson’s challenge fell by the wayside, Carew opened up a commanding lead in the batting race, holding a .400 average as late as June 27, and checking into the All-Star break with a .382 mark.  Carew maintained a wide gap for the balance of the season and cemented his fourth batting title with a .364 average.  Slotting well behind Carew in the bridesmaid position was fellow keystoner Jorge Orta who batted .316 for the White Sox.  Carew’s 48-point edge over Orta represented the largest margin of victory in an AL batting race since the circuit’s inaugural campaign in 1901 when Nap Lajoie secured top honors with an 86-point advantage over second-place Mike Donlin.  Royals designated hitter Hal McRae grabbed the number-three spot with a .310 average.  A third-year player, Orta’s .316 average was a healthy increase from the respective .202 and .266 figures he registered during his partial rookie and sophomore seasons.  Orta delivered a solid follow-up performance in 1974, ranking eighth in the AL with a .304 average, but otherwise never classified among the batting leaders for the remainder of his career.  By contrast, McRae’s third-place result marked the first of five trips to the top-10 rundown for the slugger.  With his fourth batting crown, Carew surpassed the total of his mentor Oliva.  Aside from earning top batting honors, Carew also led the AL with a .433 OBP and paced the loop for the second season in a row in hits with 218.  Additionally, his 7.5 WAR ranked first among junior circuit position players.  Minnesota continued to stay mired in the mid-pack of the AL West, improving by only a single game, compiling an 82-80 record while finishing in third for the third-straight year.  Carew slotted seventh in the MVP election.

The 1975 AL batting race played out in a similar fashion to 1974 with Carew getting off to a scorching hot start, dashing out to an early lead, flirting with .400 as the calendar turned to June, and comfortably claim the honor once more.  However, in this case, he overcame pulled leg muscles in April to conclude the month with a .448 average.  After dipping below .400 in early May, Carew raised his average back up to .425 with an incredible stretch that saw him collect a trio of hits during the final game of May and ride the momentum into the following month by recording three hits in each of the first four contests to begin June.  Carew stayed above .400 through June 16, still boasted a .375 mark at the All-Star break, and ended the season at .359 to easily win his fifth batting crown.  Red Sox rookie center fielder Fred Lynn finished second to Carew with a .331 average while Yankees catcher Thurman Munson’s .318 figure ranked third.  Lynn shared Boston’s outfield with another standout freshman in left fielder Jim Rice who grabbed the number-four spot with a .309 average.  Lynn’s and Rice’s impressive showings in the batting race represented the first of multiple trips to the leaderboard for the rookie pair.  Munson’s third-place finish was the best result for an AL catcher since Yankees backstop Elston Howard slotted third in 1964.  Munson never again ranked as high as third or hit better than .318 but managed to win the following year’s MVP Award after playing a key role in New York’s AL East division title victory while posting a .302 mark.

By adding a fifth batting crown to his collection, Carew put his name in the exclusive company of Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Dan Brouthers as the only players to achieve the honor that many times.  He also joined Cobb, Wagner, and Hornsby as just the fourth batter to accomplish the feat in four consecutive seasons.  What’s more, for the second year in a row, Carew led AL position players in WAR and OBP with respective figures of 7.9 and .421.  Additionally, he topped all batters in the loop with 5.1 WPA.  Never known for his power, Carew showed extra pop in his bat, setting a new personal-best with 14 home runs—nearly doubling his previous career-high of eight.  Twins owner Calvin Griffith and manager Frank Quilici noticed Carew was growing into a leadership role and on July 25 named him captain of the team.  Going into the season, the idea of moving Carew from second base to first base had been toyed with but when the campaign got underway, he took his familiar spot at the keystone.  However, on September 12, with the club out of the AL West pennant race and laboring to a fourth-place finish and disappointing 76-83 record, the decision was finally made to move Carew to first.  Breakout rookies Lynn and Rice helped the Red Sox leap from an 84-78 mark in 1974 to go 95-65 and win the AL East division title.  Lynn subsequently became the first player to secure both MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season.  Rice finished runner-up to Lynn for rookie honors and slotted third in the MVP election, just a hair behind Royals first baseman John Mayberry.  Carew classified ninth in the MVP vote.

The 1976 campaign witnessed a memorable batting race in which Royals teammates George Brett and Hal McRae dominated the top-two positions, trading the lead back and forth over the second half of the season.  Carew maintained a steady pace throughout the campaign but was unable to build up enough momentum to catch the Royals pair as he ended the year in third with a .331 average, ranking close behind Brett’s batting crown-winning .333 mark and McRae’s .332 runner-up figure.  Although Carew fell short in the batting race, he did manage to slot fifth in the MVP vote as Minnesota rebounded to an 85-77 record and finished third in the AL West.  Carew did not lead the junior circuit in any major categories but he did conclude the campaign with exactly 200 hits, thus reaching the 200-hit plateau for the third time in four seasons.

While Carew had played a supporting role in the tight 1976 batting race, the 1977 edition proved to be a cakewalk for the future Hall of Famer with the only intrigue being whether or not he could become the first AL hitter to finish the season with a .400 average since Ted Williams in 1941.  A few weeks prior to the beginning of the 1977 campaign, Carew was honored for his charitable work off the field as the recipient of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award.  When the season got underway, Carew raced out to a fine start, hitting .356 in April.  He then took over the batting lead during the second half of May and never relinquished the top spot.  Carew’s pursuit of .400 got serious in June as he hit a blistering .487 for the month and entered July with a .411 average.  Boasting a .400-plus mark so late into the season drew Carew ample attention and praise.  Twins manager Gene Mauch said of Carew, “I have never seen a better hitter.  I really believe he’d hit .400 on artificial turf.  I’ve never seen a hitter make as solid contact as consistently as Rod.”  Yankees skipper Billy Martin echoed similar sentiments stating, “He is the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen, bar none.  In the National League, with all the artificial turf, he’d be hitting .400 every year.”  Carew led all of MLB in fan balloting for the All-Star Game, setting a new record by receiving a whopping 4,292,740 votes.  Carew simultaneously graced the covers of the July 18 editions of Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated, with the latter publication featuring an article penned by Ted Williams in which the famous Red Sox slugger stated that he hoped Carew would hit .400.  Although Carew slipped under .400 on July 11, he remained within striking distance of the vaunted mark for the balance of the campaign while playing a vital role in keeping Minnesota in the AL West pennant race.  After struggling for much of the previous six seasons, the Twins succeeded in establishing themselves as an early contender by leading the division for all May and most of June.  Similar to Carew’s pursuit of .400, the club stayed in touch with first place, even briefly retaking the division lead in mid-August.  However, the team slumped heavily, going 7-18 in September, and fell out the pennant race.  Minnesota finished the year in fourth with an 84-77 record, 17 1/2 games behind the AL West champion Royals.  While most of his teammates floundered during the club’s September swoon, Carew’s bat heated up as he posted a .416 average for the month and got three hits in each of the two October contests to conclude the season with a magnificent .388 mark.  Carew finished 52 points ahead of his next closest challenger, eclipsing the 48-point margin with which he won the 1974 AL batting crown.  What’s more, Carew owned a 50-point lead over all qualified MLB hitters as Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Dave Parker earned the NL batting title with a .338 average.  In addition to picking up his sixth batting crown, Carew also paced the loop in a slew of categories including hits, runs scored, triples, OBP, OPS, OPS+, Rbat, WPA, and WAR.  Carew set new personal bests in most offensive categories and reached the 100-RBI plateau for the first time.

Though he fell short of joining Williams as a .400 hitter, his .388 average represented the highest AL mark since Williams registered a slightly-greater .388 figure during the 1957 campaign.  Also, Carew’s 239 hits were the most for a junior circuit batter since Heinie Manush’s 241 in 1928.  At season’s end, Carew was named the Major League Player of the Year by The Sporting News.  Then in November, he garnered 12 of 28 first-place votes to win the AL MVP Award.  The 16 additional first-place tallies were split among 10 other players.  Carew remained humble throughout his pursuit of .400 and realistic about the chances of achieving the feat.  After capturing the MVP Award, Carew said, “I’m thrilled, it’s just great.  I’m just happy to have gotten it.  I didn’t have myself geared to winning it, because so many other players had such good years and I didn’t want to be too disappointed if I lost.”

Well behind Carew in the runner-up spot of the batting race with a .336 average was his young teammate, outfielder Lyman Bostock.  Only 26 years of age, 1977 represented the third big league campaign for Bostock who had already established himself as a batting crown threat by posting a .323 mark during the previous season which slotted him in fourth place, just behind the tightly-clustered triumvirate of George Brett, Hal McRae, and Carew.  Bostock built on his strong 1976 effort with a solid start to 1977.  While Carew easily ran away from the pack, Bostock spent much of the campaign leading the remainder of the AL.  Bostock encountered a late challenge from Baltimore Orioles right fielder Ken Singleton as the pair traded the number-two position in the batting race during September.  Bostock successfully held off Singleton to secure bridesmaid honors with a .336 average while the O’s slugger settled for third with a .328 figure.  Seen as a key player in Baltimore’s runner-up finish in the AL East, Singleton collected a trio of first-place MVP votes and classified third in election.  With Carew earning most of the credit for Minnesota’s pennant push, Bostock did not factor in the MVP election, only drawing a sole ninth-place vote.  Singleton’s .328 average and number-three result in the batting race each marked personal-bests for the right fielder.

Although Bostock was a veteran of just three major league campaigns, he became eligible for free agency at the conclusion of 1977 and left the Twins to sign a lucrative five-year contract with the California Angels.  During the same offseason, Minnesota lost another marquee player when outfielder Larry Hisle, who was fresh off a standout effort in which he led the AL with 119 RBI, also departed the club via free agency to sign a six-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.  Prior to the start of the 1978 campaign, Bostock took the opportunity to detail the benefits of learning from former teammates Carew and Tony Oliva, the latter of whom had transitioned into a player-coach role during his final big league season in 1976 before focusing exclusively on his hitting coach duties for 1977.  “Tony was the teacher and Rodney was the demonstrator,” Bostock explained.  “Tony taught me how to set pitchers up, what to look for against certain guys.  Tony illustrated everything and Carew demonstrated it.  Carew would go in and do the thing Tony was talking about.”

Bostock unexpectedly struggled to open the 1978 season, batting an anemic .147 in April.  Feeling he was not earning his lucrative contract, Bostock attempted to return his April salary to Angels owner Gene Autry.  When Autry refused, the young outfielder donated the money to a variety of charities.  Bostock soon broke out of his uncharacteristic slump and by September 23 had raised his average to a solid .296 with a two-hit performance versus the Chicago White Sox.  Sadly, later that night, while visiting his uncle in Gary, Indiana and reconnecting with two female friends from his childhood, Bostock was shot by one of the ladies’ estranged husband.  Bostock passed away from the gunshot wound early the next morning, he was just 27.

After easily claiming his sixth AL batting crown during his MVP-winning 1977 campaign, Carew once again dominated the leaderboard in 1978 but this time around secured the honor by a much slimmer margin.  Carew began 1978 in identical fashion to 1977, posting a .356 average in April.  He then took over the lead in early May and briefly raised his average above .400 during the latter half of the month.  Going into the All-Star break it appeared that the batting race might play out similarly to 1975 as Carew ranked first with a .349 average, followed by the respective .331 and .323 figures of Red Sox sluggers Fred Lynn and Jim Rice.  Carew never managed to run away from the pack but continued to maintain a comfortable advantage over the rest of the AL for the remainder of the campaign—only relinquishing the top spot for a single day in early August—before earning the batting title with a final mark of .333.  With his latest batting crown, Carew became one of just five players to accomplish the feat seven times as he matched the total of Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial while only trailing the eight of Honus Wagner and 12 of Ty Cobb.  Unfortunately, Carew’s achievement was overshadowed when the Twins regular season ended in controversy after a series of racist comments made by team owner Calvin Griffith became public.  Griffith’s remarks further stained an already contentious relationship between Carew and the notoriously-cheap owner as the veteran vowed to never sign another contract with the Twins organization.

Slotting just nine points behind Carew in the bridesmaid position of the batting race was Texas Rangers left fielder Al Oliver.  After spending his initial 10 big league campaigns with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oliver came to Texas as part of a massive 11-player, four-team trade during the offseason.  A career .296 hitter going into 1978, Oliver was no stranger to playing second fiddle in the batting race, having finished runner-up on the 1974 NL leaderboard with a .321 average that was only bested by the .353 figure of Atlanta Braves outfielder Ralph Garr.  Oliver did not immediately establish himself as a threat in the 1978 AL batting race, registering a .288 average through the first half.  Returning to the field after being sidelined for a month by a pulled muscle under his rib cage, Oliver opened the season’s second act slotted behind 19 qualified junior circuit hitters.  However, he quickly rose up the rankings as his bat got scorching hot.  At one point, Oliver even snatched the lead from Carew for a single day in early August before spending the final weeks of the campaign battling Rice and Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella for the number-two spot.  Oliver hit .350 during the second half to ultimately finish runner-up to Carew with a .324 average, followed by the respective .315 and .314 marks of Rice and Piniella.  The close fight for third in the batting race played out in opposite fashion to the AL East pennant race which saw Rice’s Red Sox and Piniella’s Yankees end the season tied atop the standings.  New York then beat Boston in a one-game tiebreaker playoff to capture the division title and advance to the playoffs where the club defeated the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

With Minnesota’s lineup weakened by the departures of Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle, the team slumped heavily and finished the 1978 campaign well out of contention in fourth place.  In fact, the Twins’ 73-89 record represented the franchise’s worst win-loss mark since 1961.  Despite having less protection in the lineup, Carew still managed to cement his seventh batting crown while also pacing the junior circuit in OBP for the fourth time in five years.  Rice stood atop the AL leaderboard in most offensive categories and won the MVP Award while Carew classified 11th in the election.

With Carew’s contract set to expire at the conclusion of the upcoming 1979 season and the disgruntled superstar publicly stating that he intended to test the free agent market rather than sign an extension to stay with Minnesota, the club began actively shopping the veteran.  On February 3, the Twins traded Carew to the California Angels in exchange for four players.  Carew quickly adjusted to his new surroundings and appeared to be in the process of making a strong run at claiming his eighth batting title when he sprained his right thumb on June 1.  Carew who, was hitting .355 at the time, missed the next 45 games.  When he returned from injury, he struggled to rediscover his tempo, batting an uncharacteristically-low .287 over the remainder of the season to finish with a .318 average for the year.  With Carew hampered by the thumb sprain, one of the players who previously slotted runner-up to him in the batting race stepped up to earn top honors as Red Sox center fielder Fred Lynn’s .333 mark paced the AL.  While Carew’s .318 average was not far off from Lynn, he classified outside the top-10 leaderboard because he only made 493 plate appearances, nine short of the number required to qualify for the batting crown.  Thus, when the nine plate appearances were added to Carew’s total, his average decreased from a .318 figure that ranked 10th-best in the loop to a .311 mark which slotted 12th.  Despite the injury, Carew helped the Angels reach the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s 19-year existence as the club won the AL West title with an 88-74 record.  Carew’s bat heated back up in the ALCS where he went 7 for 17 and registered a team-high .412 average.  However, California fell to the Orioles in four games.

Carew raised his batting average to .331 for 1980 but only finished fifth on the rundown and well behind the eye-popping .390 figure of Royals third baseman George Brett who claimed his second AL batting crown.  The strike-shortened 1981 campaign saw Carew miss cracking the top-10 leaderboard for the second time in three seasons as his .305 mark slotted him 11th while Red Sox third baseman Carney Lansford paced the circuit with a .336 figure.  The following year, Carew posted a .296 average through the first half which ranked 20th in the AL but came on strong during the season’s second act to climb all the way up to third on the leaderboard and finish the year at .319 as Royals left fielder Willie Wilson secured top honors with a .332 mark, edging Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Robin Yount by a single point.  Carew’s solid campaign was one of several by an ensemble of Angels hitters that led the club to its second playoff appearance.  Unfortunately, for California the outcome was the same as three seasons earlier with a loss in the ALCS, on this occasion in five games to Yount’s Brewers.  Over in the NL, another one of the players who previously finished runner-up to Carew in the batting race joined the ranks of the elite as Montreal Expos first baseman Al Oliver concluded the 1982 campaign atop the senior circuit leaderboard with a .331 average.

Six seasons removed from his last serious attempt at batting .400, the now 37-year-old Carew got off to a blistering start in 1983, posting a .449 average in April followed by .438 mark in May.  Similar to his MVP-winning 1977 campaign, Carew began garnering attention for his latest run at .400.  As part of a June 13 Sports Illustrated cover story on Carew, teammate Doug DeCinces said of the ageless wonder, “The difference between this guy and the rest of us is that when we get hot, we go up to .300.  When he gets hot, he goes up to .500.”  Carew continued to boast a .400-plus average throughout June and into July, checking into the All-Star break batting .402—a figure nearly 50 points ahead of his nearest challenger, young Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs.  Carew finally fell below .400 on July 15, then labored through a difficult second half of the month at which point Boggs quickly began to close the gap.  A .349 hitter across 381 plate appearances as a rookie in 1982, the idea of the 25-year-old Boggs contending for a batting title was not a surprising development.  Boggs hit exactly .400 during the latter half of July while Carew slumped to .200 over the same stretch.  This enabled Boggs to catch Carew and the pair swapped the batting lead during late July and early August.  Boggs maintained his pace and pulled away from Carew in September, ultimately winning his first batting crown with a .361 average while the veteran finished runner-up with a .339 mark.  Although it had been five years since Carew won his last batting title, the final result of the seven-time batting champion playing bridesmaid to Boggs represented something of a changing of the guard as the young third baseman went on to become the AL’s next perennial batting champion, earning top honors for four straight seasons from 1985 to 1988.  The emergence of Boggs denied Carew the chance to become the first player to win batting crowns in three different decades—an achievement since accomplished only by George Brett who stood at the head of the junior circuit leaderboard in 1976, 1980, and 1990.

Carew’s second-place finish to Boggs proved to be his last serious run at winning another batting title.  During the 1984 and 1985 campaigns, Carew posted respective .295 and .280 averages that would have satisfied most hitters but were below-par for the seven-time batting champion.  On August 4, 1985, Carew became the 16th player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau.  Ironically, Carew’s 3,000th hit came during an Angels’ 6-5 win against his old team, the Minnesota Twins.  After achieving the milestone, Carew humbly said, “It’s something I thought I’d never accomplish but I’ve been around for 19 years, and if you stay around long enough, good things happen to you.”  The 1985 season marked the end of the veteran’s distinguished career as he retired with 3,053 hits and a lifetime .328 batting average.  Six years later, Carew received the call to the Hall of Fame, easily being voted in on his first appearance on the ballot with 90.5% of the vote.  Few players have dominated the batting leaderboard over a lengthy stretch of seasons the way Carew did.  In fact, since Carew’s retirement only eight-time NL batting champion Tony Gwynn has equaled or surpassed Carew’s total of seven batting crowns.

----by John Tuberty 

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Sources and Quote credit: 
All statistics are drawn from Baseball Reference

Associated Press, “Reaching That .400 Percentage,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 28, 1977, Volume 121, Number 251, p.16. Accessed via California Digital Newspaper Collection. (includes both Gene Mauch’s and Billy Martin’s quotes about Rod Carew)

Associated Press, “Carew Nabs AL MVP,” Desert Sun, November 16, 1977, p.B7. Accessed via California Digital Newspaper Collection. (includes Rod Carew’s quote about winning the AL MVP Award)

Sun-Telegram news services, “Hunter fired, Carew fired up as regular season ends,” San Bernardino Sun, October 2, 1978, p.C4. Accessed via California Digital Newspaper Collection.

Ted Williams with John Underwood, “I Hope Rod Carew Hits .400,” Sports Illustrated, July 18, 1977, p.20-23. Accessed via SI Vault.

Ron Fimrite, “Portrait Of The Artist As A Hitter: The Man Behind The Camera Is Rod Carew, Part-Time Photographer, Full-Time Batting Star, Whose Phenomenal .435 Average Has Made Him The Focus Of Unwanted Attention,” Sports Illustrated, June 13, 1983, p.74-85. Accessed via SI Vault.(includes Doug DeCinces quote about Rod Carew)

“Rod Carew to Be Sidelined 4 Weeks by Thumb Injury,” The New York Times, June 5, 1979.

Mike Downey, “Carew: Rod Carew Has Never Been Much for Talking About His Feats, or the Good Things He Does Off the Field. He Has Let His Bat Do the Speaking and It Has Done So, Eloquently, for 19 Seasons,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1985 (includes Rod Carew’s quote about reaching 3,000 hits)

Arno Goethel, “Carew Best Bet For .400 Swat Mark, Cal Says,” The Sporting News, May 31, 1969, p.22, 32.

Bob Fowler, “Oliva’s 1967 Tip Helped Carew to Batting Title,” The Sporting News, October 28, 1972, p.19. (includes quote from Rod Carew about beating Tony Oliva in 1969 AL batting race and also Carew quote about advice he received from Oliva as a rookie)

Bob Fowler, “Who’s Premier Swatter in A.L.? Rod Carew,” The Sporting News, June 29, 1974, p.3. (includes Reggie Jackson quote about Rod Carew)

Bob Fowler, “Schedule Favors Twins’ Effort To Leave Starting Gate Fast,” The Sporting News, April 12, 1975, p.27.

Bob Fowler, “Carew Taking on Bat Title Complexion Again,” The Sporting News, June 14, 1975, p.19.

Bob Fowler, “Twins Tab Carew for Killer’s Old Role,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1975, p.8.

Bob Fowler, “Twins Turns to Carew to Halt Gateway Turnover,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1975, p.23.

Jack Lang, “Well-Rounded Rod Wins Clemente Award,” The Sporting News, April 9, 1977, p.24, 30.

A.L. flashes, “Sky’s Limit For Rod,” The Sporting News, July 2, 1977, p.30.

Bob Fowler, “Twins’ Hot Rod Knocks for All-Time Honors,” The Sporting News, July 16, 1977, p.11.

Oscar Kahan, “Record Votes for Carew, Garvey as All-Stars,” The Sporting News, July 23, 1977, p. 47.

Bob Fowler, “The Real Rod Carew: Majors’ Player of Year,” The Sporting News, October 15, 1977, p.3.

Jack Lang, “MVP Prize Caps Carew’s Greatest Season,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1977, p.45.

Dick Miller, “Lyman’s Pie in Sky Proves to Be Angel Food,” The Sporting News, April 15, 1978, p.3. (includes Lyman Bostock quote about being helped by Tony Oliva and Rod Carew)

Leonard Koppett, “More Credit to Carew’s Batting,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1978, p.4.

Dick Miller, “Charity Big Winner in Bostock Slump,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1978, p.11. 

Dick Miller, “Bostock Death Stuns Angels, All of Baseball,” The Sporting News, October 7, 1978, p.51.

Bob Fowler, “Twins’ Players Raging Over Cal’s Remarks,” The Sporting News, October 14, 1978, p.29.

Randy Galloway, “Rangers’ Sag No Fault of Swatter Oliver,” The Sporting News, November 4, 1978, p.54.

Dick Miller, “Injured Carew Tries Hypnosis,” The Sporting News, June 23, 1979, p.12.

Cards: Kellogg’s 3-D Superstar Rod Carew cards-1970, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979; Topps-Rod Carew, Reggie Smith, Tony Oliva; 1973 Topps-Rod Carew, Lou Piniella, Dick Allen; 1974 Topps-Rod Carew, George Scott, Tommy Davis; 1975 Topps-Rod Carew, Jorge Orta, Hal McRae; 1976 Topps-Rod Carew, Fred Lynn, Thurman Munson; 1977 Topps-Rod Carew, Lyman Bostock, Ken Singleton; 1979 Topps-Rod Carew, Al Oliver, Jim Rice; 1984 Topps Drake’s Big Hitters-Rod Carew, Wade Boggs; 1986 Fleer Rod Carew 

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  1. Great post! He sure had an insane run in the 70's. Shame that pair of Royals had to screw things up in 1976.

    1. Thank you for taking time to read the article and leave a nice comment! Crazy to think that Carew came just a couple of points shy of beating George Brett and Hal McRae in 1976 which would have given him seven batting titles in a row.