On April 11, 1967, nine days before Tom Seaver won his first game, a skinny lefthanded hitter from Panama named Rod Carew lined a Dave McNally slider up the middle for his first big league hit. At the end of the year, Seaver and Carew were named the National and American League Rookies of the Year, and both were on their way to the Hall of Fame.
Some 18� years later—last Sunday, in fact—as Seaver was trying for his 300th win, Carew came to the plate on a bright and glorious afternoon in Anaheim Stadium. It was a perfect time for Carew to step into the light of his own brilliant accomplishment. With one out in the third and Brian Downing on second, Carew hit Minnesota lefthander Frank Viola's cut fastball for a looping single to left. It was his 3,000th hit, making him one of 16 hitters in the history of the game to have that many.
As the crowd of 41,630 stood and cheered for the 39-year-old Carew, he doffed his batting helmet. He then stepped off the bag and looked toward the dugout, but his exuberant teammates had already vacated it. Catcher Bob Boone, the first to arrive, hugged him. Then manager Gene Mauch helped him lift the first base bag from its moorings. Carew, the active leader in steals of home, with 17, had finally stolen first base.
At the end of the inning, Carew listened to more congratulations from Angel owner Gene Autry, then stepped to the mike. "I'm just very glad it's over," he said. "Now I can sleep at night. After so many years, it's a very emotional thing for me."
Afterward Carew met the press with his 7-year-old daughter Michelle on his lap and his wife, Marilynn, and daughters Charryse, 11, and Stephanie, 10, standing close behind him. "It's been a nervous day for the last two weeks," he said. "It's hard to go to bed at night thinking about when it's going to happen."
Carew's quest for a 3,000th hit had become a two-year ordeal, punctuated by injuries, a minor international crisis and a brief brouhaha with the press. He had always made the art of hitting a baseball seem easy, but this season it has obviously been difficult, as both his .264 batting average and his expression have attested. But on Sunday all was right with the world. As always, Carew's quick hands seemed to be flicking a baton rather than swinging a bat. The crowd applauded his artistry with an 80-second ovation. As it was ending, Carew doffed his helmet for a third and final time.
Carew's accomplishment serves as an advance check-in to Cooperstown. Except for Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski, neither of whom is eligible but both of whom have plaques already cast, every other player with 3,000 hits is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In fact, every player with 2,800 hits resides there.
Carew's .328 career batting average is the highest in the last 22 years. Most remarkable, however, are his seven batting titles, a number met or surpassed only by Ty Cobb (12), Honus Wagner (8), Rogers Hornsby (7) and Stan Musial (7).
"Most guys hit when they can—he hits when he wants to," says Angel center-fielder Gary Pettis. Journeyman utility player Alan Bannister once said, " Rod Carew is the only guy I know who can go 4 for 3."
"He stays within himself so well," says teammate Bobby Grich. "He doesn't try to hit home runs. Because of that, there are hitters who can cause more damage and can carry a team further, but for getting on base and getting base hits, he's the best."