"I ran away from home many times, only to return and get a whipping. I got so tired of it. It seems like there was always something. Some days I'd see my dad coming home and I could just tell by the look on his face that something had gone wrong and that I was going to get whipped. I used to tell myself that one of these days I'll get out of this situation. I almost never see my dad now. I sent an invitation and an airline ticket for him to come from New York for our wedding. He never came. He met my wife and his grandchildren for the first time last year. It was awkward. Sometimes I feel for him. He's got a son accomplishing a lot of things that he can't share in."
When Rod was 15, the Carews moved to New York City to join his mother's younger brother, Clyde Scott. It was Scott who instilled a sense of family in a boy who was becoming increasingly alienated. "He told us that we had to stick together as a family in this country," says Rod. "We had to try to help each other in this strange place."
Carew had never been outside of Panama, and the sight of the huge city both fascinated and intimidated him. His English needed work, and he knew nothing of life on the streets. He developed a taste for movies, one he has never lost. Carew will still sit up past 3 or 4 a.m. watching television reruns of old Cagney films. In New York, the already lonely youngster turned further inward. "We didn't have any friends," he says. "The relatives all did everything together. I couldn't go back to my old neighborhoods—at 144th and Eighth and 151st and Amsterdam—and say to anybody, 'Hey, I know you.' I went to school and came home. I didn't get involved. Nobody on the block knew us. But then I was always a loner, even in Panama. My brother had more friends than I did. He was that kind of guy. I never really hung out."
With encouragement from his New York uncle, Carew continued playing baseball, although not at his high school, George Washington, because an after-school job in a grocery store took up his time for extracurricular activities. He played in sandlot games at Macombs Dam Park, next door to Yankee Stadium. He was spotted there by an unpaid scout for the Twins. The next time Minnesota came to New York, Carew was given a tryout. The immaculate batting stroke had Twins officials gaping. A month later, he was signed and given a $5,000 bonus. He spent three years in the minors, and then, in 1967, at the insistence of owner Calvin Griffith, he became the Minnesota second baseman. He had another ardent supporter that year in a Twins coach named Billy Martin. "I first saw him in spring training in Orlando," says Martin, "and I told Sam Mele, the manager then, that we had our second baseman. We knew even then that we had one helluva hitter." The faith was justified. Carew hit .292 and was named Rookie of the Year. Two years later, with Martin as his manager, he led the league in hitting for the first time, with a .332 average, and tied a major league record by stealing home seven times.
But Carew's rise was not without its dark side. His parents separated during this period, and though he was hardly attached to his father, the notion of a split in the family was difficult for him to accept. Martin recalls one occasion when Carew simply walked off the field after grounding out in the middle of a game. "I followed him into the clubhouse and found him there crying," Martin says. "He told me about his mom and dad. I'd had some experience with that, coming from a broken home myself, so we talked." Their personalities may be disparate, but Martin, like that other opposite, Jackson, is one of Carew's best friends. "He was my teacher," Carew says of Martin. "He was like a second father to me. I was young back then. I was quiet. People thought I was moody. Billy tried to get me to joke more with the guys, to take things less seriously. He'll always have a special place in my heart. He's Stephanie's godfather."
Carew wasn't a popular player in Minnesota during his first few years. He was criticized in the media for his temperamental outbursts and was booed by the fans for what they considered his lack of hustle. His right knee was torn up in June 1970, when Milwaukee's Mike Hegan slid into him trying to break up a double play. He underwent surgery for torn ligaments and played only 51 games that season. The rap against him after the injury was that he avoided contact and, therefore, was ineffective on the double play. Then, in October of '70, he married a white woman.
Marilynn Levy, born and raised in Minneapolis, was the youngest daughter of Morry Levy, a local businessman, and his wife, Selma. Marilynn was raised to be a nice Jewish girl, an upbringing that assumed she would someday marry a nice Jewish boy. "We were middle class," Marilynn said one day, seated under her husband's trophies, which include seven silver bats for the seven titles. "But my father worked 20 hours a day to keep us that way. For a while he owned a hand laundry, then a tavern and a clothing store, before he finally went into real estate. I got an associate of arts [two-year] degree from the University of Minnesota, but all I ever wanted was a husband and to stay home and raise children."
On her 23rd birthday, Marilynn and a girl friend went for a drink at a Minneapolis bar called King Solomon's Mines. Carew, the newest star of the Twins, was there. "What happened," Marilynn explained, "is that this friend of Rod's wanted to meet my friend. I guess he thought that might be easier if he brought Rod Carew over to impress her. The trouble was, neither of us knew who Rod Carew was. 'Who's Rod Carew?' I said. 'If Tony Curtis is in here, bring him over.' Rod just looked at me and said, 'God, are you flaky.' Well, I didn't know what that meant, so I said, 'Look, I don't mind being sworn at, but I at least like to know what the words mean.' He asked me for my telephone number, and I gave it to him. So we started going out. I knew nothing was ever going to come of it, so I didn't say anything to my parents. I didn't want to put them through any unnecessary changes. Other girls Rod had gone out with had been proud to be seen with him. But I thought more about my parents' feelings than I did about his. Then when it got serious, I was ashamed that I hadn't said something."
This odd couple, the lively Jewish girl from the American Midwest and the quiet young black from Panama, separated for a time and then reunited. They announced their engagement at the Levy's Passover seder in 1970. Both families accepted the romance without protest. "My little nieces put up a sign on the wall at the seder, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?," said Marilynn. "It was a popular Sidney Poitier movie of the time about mixed marriages. I took my mother to see it to prepare her." The families may have accepted the union, but some elements of the local community didn't. "We got death threats," said Marilynn, "threats from people who felt what we did was their business. My mother got calls from people saying, 'How could your daughter do this?' They were going to shoot Rod at second base." She stirred on the couch. "They must have thought we were trying to prove something. We weren't. We weren't crusaders. We were just two people who met in a bar and happened to fall in love."
Race and religion weren't problems for the newlyweds. Carew agreed to have his children raised in the Jewish faith, and though he has never converted, he has done the reading, observes the holidays and, in Marilynn's opinion, is more religious than she is. The problem they did face in the early days of the marriage was caused by baseball. "And that," said Marilynn, "would be the same if we both happened to be white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. When I got married, I never thought I'd have to spend so much time alone. I knew Rod had to travel, but the way I was brought up, my dad came home at six every night and we had picnics on Sunday. When the kids came, I found myself alone with them so much. I don't know if I could ever be considered a fan. When you're living the game, it's not the same. There are so many negatives to go with the positives. You never really feel your husband is your own until he walks in the house. That's when I see Rod, the family man. Otherwise, I have to share him. A lot of the time I don't want to, but you also have a responsibility to those people out there. He's a big part of their lives, after all. Once when the kids and I went down to spring training after he'd been gone three weeks, we had to wait by the car outside the ball park for all the autograph seekers surrounding him to go before we could finally see him. It's the celebrity part that's difficult. Now we've got a balance. I have a role, he has a role. We both put a lot of trying into this marriage. We've worked hard to get where we are. And yes, if I had to, I'd do it all over again." She laughed. "Look, I've got a nice house, four dogs, three cats, three kids and Rodney. Put 'em in any order you want."