Carew doesn't agree with Ted Williams' wait-for-just-the-right-pitch ideas, however. "My own theory is swing the bat," he says. "If the ball's around the plate, swing and make contact." That, he agrees, is part of the Latin baseball tradition. "I grew up that way in Panama. Here a lot of guys look for certain pitches, in certain areas. But you may never get those pitches. I hate to take."
He does not try to anticipate the type of pitch that's coming, he says, although many opponents think he is very good at it. "If I could be a guess hitter I'd hit .500," he says. "But I don't like to think too much about hitting. I like being up there, not guessing, just getting up there and swinging free."
There is no question, however, that Carew's free stroke is highly disciplined, certainly much more so than Garr's, and in fact more so than just about anybody's. He may not maneuver the ball into certain spots (except when he is bunting, with perhaps more accuracy than anybody else in the game), but he has learned to manipulate the meat of his bat into the path of any pitch. Good pitchers used to have some success jamming him with high, tight fastballs and tantalizing him with off-speed stuff, but that doesn't work anymore, although John Hiller of the Tigers says he can be made to fish for an up-and-in fastball. He may not try to outthink the pitcher, but he does foul off pitches until he gets one he can handle and he does wait until the very last instant, reading the pitch as it comes, before he triggers the easy swing of a man slapping out brisk fungoes.
That swing, which he keeps tuned up with extra batting practice, has built him a lifetime batting average which stood at .323 coming into '75 and after this season should be edging up fairly close to .330. After his first nine years, Roberto Clemente, who went on to a .317 career mark, had a cumulative average of .303. Carew's swing is also strong enough that outfielders can't cheat in on him. "There's no way you can play him," says Oakland's Bill North, "because he can hit with enough power to keep you back deep so you can't play him like he's going to drop everything right over the infield. And he can drop it over the infield. Rod Carew is in a class all by himself."
Not in as high a salary class as he thinks he deserves, though. After losing his arbitration hearing, during which Clark Griffith, son of Twins Owner Calvin Griffith, described him as an error-prone second baseman and a singles hitter, Carew said, "I thought I was a member of the Twins family, but I guess I'm just a number." There is talk around the league that he is shooting this year for more highly negotiable batting numbers. Besides cutting down on his fielding errors drastically, he has picked up six home runs and 30 RBIs already, whereas he has never finished a season with more than eight of the former or 62 of the latter. Although few people have noticed it, he is also very uncharacteristically third in the league in slugging percentage, with .582. Last year Dick Allen led the league, comfortably, with .563, and Carew slugged only .446.
One of Carew's strong points, people around the game agree, is that he is wise enough to stay within his limitations. "He's got control of his whole game," says Bill Freehan of Detroit. "He never lets it get away." A very controlled-looking person on the field, with that arms-only swing and a tight way of carrying his upper body when he runs, Carew is easier going than he was as a younger player, but despite his ready smile he seems reserved. There aren't many Carew anecdotes, aside from the one about a fight, in his more sensitive days, with then-teammate Dave LaRoche. The two went into a broom closet to have it out, but when several teammates came along to watch, the place became so crowded that the principals were falling over buckets and weren't able to swing, causing the fight to break up in laughter.
When Carew moved at 15 to Manhattan from the Canal Zone, where he had dreamed of coming to America and playing big-league ball, he found himself an outsider who spoke halting English, in George Washington High School. Carew speaks perfectly good English now, and he hits pretty close to perfectly as well. Opponents just about concede him two hits a game; if they worried about holding him under that, they would wind up as frustrated as Ken McMullen did one day when he was California's slick-fielding third baseman. Carew bunted for three straight base hits against McMullen, who kept playing him closer and closer in until finally he was almost within arm's reach and still unable to throw him out. After the third perfect bunt McMullen threw his glove in dismay.
So who knows just how crafty Carew can be? Enough to hit .400? Well, many American Leaguers point out that he is handicapped by not playing on artificial turf as often as he would in the National, where he might bat 25 points higher, and Carew says the pitching is getting better and better and richer and richer in breaking balls—"every pitcher throws a spitball at least once in a while." But everybody says that if anybody hits .400 it will be Carew, and he says, with who knows how private a smile, that he'll be taking his natural swing at it.