Carew appreciates special bond with Twins
First pitch an honor for Hall of Famer and Minnesota legend
MINNEAPOLIS -- In 1985, the last time the Twins hosted an All-Star Game across town in the now-defunct Metrodome, Rod Carew was in the final season of a brilliant 19-year career, finishing up a seven-season tenure with the then California Angels.
Carew began it all with the Twins and played his first 12 seasons in Minnesota. But as fate would have it, that was the only season after 18 in a row that Carew wasn't selected to the American League team.
That's why when Carew was asked to throw out the first pitch before Tuesday night's 85th Midsummer Classic, the honor was that much more special.
"This was a lot of fun. Playing here all those years, I was really looking forward to it," Carew told MLB.com as he emerged from the Twins' clubhouse just before the game. "Working with the Twins organization and then being given the honor of throwing out the first pitch, yeah, it was exciting."
Carew, a Hall of Famer with a lifetime .328 batting average, is as synonymous to Twins baseball as longtime head coach Bud Grant is to Vikings football.
The late Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew are lifetime Twins whose plaques also hang in the Hall. Add Carew, Bert Blyleven, Paul Molitor, Steve Carlton and Dave Winfield, the latter trio all with cameo roles in Minnesota. Carew played here from 1967-78 and has the Twin Cities logo on his plaque. He is again a spring presence, has an ongoing consulting role with the organization, and contributes off-field work for the Angels at the behest of owner Arte Moreno.
"I'm a Twin at heart, but I also have a halo above my head," said Carew, now 68. "The nice thing is, [Twins president] Dave St. Peter knows I played for the Angels for seven years. And he's OK with it."
Twenty-nine years ago, Major League Baseball didn't honor some of its greats during the final season of their distinguished careers. There was no such thing as a non-playing All-Star captain, an honor bestowed on Tony Gwynn in 2001, the last year of his career.
Times have changed now, and baseball honors its own.
"It has changed, and it's great that they're doing that now," Carew said without any sign of bitterness or rancor. "Guys like Derek Jeter, who has done so much for the game and carried himself unbelievably on the field and off the field, you couldn't ask for a better guy to represent Major League Baseball. I see that in Mike Trout. I see that in the way he plays and the way he goes about it. It reminds me so much of Derek when he was a young player."
Despite hitting .272, 29 points below his lifetime batting average of .311, Jeter didn't need anyone's largess to make the AL team. He was voted in as the AL's starting shortstop by the fans.
Carew, long a first baseman by then, hit a very representative .280 in his last season. It wasn't good enough to make the All-Star team. Eddie Murray, another future Hall of Famer, started that year for the AL at first base.
Carew hit .334 for the Twins and won five AL batting titles. He was Gwynn before there was even a glimmer of Gwynn, who won a record-tying eight National League batting titles and hit .338 in 20 years, all with the Padres.
In 1977, Carew won the AL MVP Award and the Major League Player of the Year. But that didn't stop the Twins from trading him to Angels before the 1979 season, largely for economic reasons. In one fell swoop, Carew's salary jumped from $200,000 to $800,000 a season, paltry in comparison to this age of the $3.2 million average salary, but big bucks back then in the first blush of free agency.
All of that, though, is now forgotten. The Twins, under the stewardship of the Pohlad family, honor their history. Blyleven has been a Twins TV analyst for the past 19 years, and on Sunday, he managed the World Team in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Tom Kelly, who managed the Twins to their only World Series titles in 1987 and '91, was the U.S. Team skipper and, like Carew, is a consultant for the club.
"What's nice about it is that they brought all of us back to remain a part of the organization," Carew said. "I continue to do work for them on and off the field. I come in, I do some clinics for them, I do stuff in the community. I spend so much time doing things for the organization. I'm on the advisory board. It's nice. It's a good thing to spend the rest of my time helping the organization. It's good to be back here."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.