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Marilynn realizes that baseball life was made easier for her because her husband was at least playing in her hometown. And as Carew's batting titles accumulated—in 1969, '72, '73, '74, '75, '77 and '78—his popularity rose. In 1976, he was shifted from second to first base, a move that would spare his injured leg from hard-sliding base runners and spare him the jeers of fans who accused him of avoiding those runners too readily. Carew hit .331 that year.
Then in '77 he had one of those unforgettable seasons. He hit higher than .400 for much of the season and finished at .388, with a league-leading 128 runs scored, 239 hits and 16 triples. He drove in 100 runs for the only time in his life and hit 14 homers, tying a career high set in '75. He also suffered mightily from the pressures of the .400 quest. "I just couldn't do anything or go anywhere without being approached by somebody," he says. "It's hard to give up your privacy like that. You can give up just so much of your time. I don't think you should be bothered wherever you go."
Carew led the league in '78 with a less attention-grabbing .333. He also arrived at a crossroads with the Twins. Carew had found a home in the Minneapolis area. "I enjoyed playing there," he says. "I had family and friends." But by the dizzily escalating major league pay scale, at $170,000 a year he was woefully underpaid by Griffith, and he could not convince the old man to give him a five-year contract. Carew and Griffith had already reached the pay-me-or-trade-me impasse when Griffith delivered his now infamous oration to the Waseca, Minn. Lions Club on Sept. 28, 1978. Griffith was quoted as telling the Lions that Carew was a "damn fool" for signing a Twins contract when he could make so much more elsewhere. The capper, however, was Griffith's assertion that he had moved the franchise from Washington, D.C. because "I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here.... We came here because you've got good, hard-working white people here." Carew had always been on friendly terms with his boss. "I was moody and temperamental when I first came up, but Calvin really stuck by me," he says. "He was honest with me. I could talk to him." But the Waseca speech was more than this intensely proud man could endure. "I'm not going to be another nigger on his plantation," he told newsmen when they sought his response to Griffith's unfortunate remarks.
Carew and Griffith patched up their differences shortly afterward. "We talked about it," says Carew. "It was just an unfortunate thing. He meant it one way and it came out the other. He'd always signed black players, and he always treated us well. I told him that as far as I was concerned it was all forgotten. I kind of regretted making any comment at all about what he said." But money was still a problem. "He couldn't pay me and I knew he couldn't." On Feb. 3, 1979, Carew was traded to the Angels for pitchers Paul Hartzell and Brad Havens, Outfielder Ken Landreaux and Infielder Dave Engle. He signed a five-year contract that would pay him upward of $4 million.
Carew was leaving a team on which he was the only real star for one with a galaxy of them. Alas, the Angels have also been a star-crossed team, and like so many luminaries before and after him, Carew got hurt—torn ligaments in his right thumb—in his first year at California. He played in just 110 games and hit "only" .318. He was up to a more normal .331 in '80, but he found now that he was being criticized for not driving in more runs—he had only 59 that year. There was also talk of a players strike. Fan reaction to that point had been decidedly antiplayer, and there was booing from the grandstands. On May 22, 1980, when asked by reporters in Texas what he thought of the fan response, Carew replied undiplomatically, "The fans are as bad as the owners. They're fickle. They can't yell at their wives, so they come out to the ball park and yell at us." If he had heard booing before, he heard it for fair now. Carew issued a formal apology, but he had difficulty shaking a new image as a spoiled modern ballplayer. In fact, Carew is about as modern as Willie Keeler. He simply doesn't take criticism lightly. "I'm a very outspoken person," he explains. "If I'm yelled at, I think I should be able to express my opinion."
The players did strike in '81, a year in which Carew hit .305, his lowest average in 13 years. In 1982 he played most of the year one-handed, after his right hand was stepped on in an April 16 brawl with the Twins. Three bones were chipped, and, as Carew says, "If my hands hurt, I'm going to hurt at the plate." Still, he hit .319. Unfortunately, he also made the last out of the 1982 league playoffs—a hard shot straight at Milwaukee Shortstop Robin Young with one on and two out and the score 4-3 Brewers. Milwaukee went on to the World Series, in which Carew has never played.
Aside from his knee, he's fit this year, and his popularity with fans and teammates has never been higher. Carew has always been gracious with advice to younger players, and it's not uncommon now to see him step aside during batting practice to help a youngster like Rick Adams with his swing. He has a running wager (for Cokes) with Foli, a lifetime .251 hitter, on who will get the most "hits" in batting practice, and he cheerfully allows Foli to change the rules on him. "What am I supposed to do?" protests Foli. "The guy's hitting .440. I've got to have some advantages." Carew is immensely popular with his teammates, although the normal clubhouse horseplay is beneath him. His great season, says Foli, "couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
"I'll tell you what I think," says Jackson. "I think Rod Carew is a better person than he is a hitter. And not too many guys are better hitters."
Certainly not this year. Carew had had 24 multiple-hit games by the end of last week. And for those who say he doesn't hit in the clutch, the numbers in the box on this page show that he is having his best year ever with the Angels in pressure situations.
Carew is convinced that, after his 1977 experience, he will be able to deal with the tension of the .400 struggle. This time he will set the rules on his availability. Indeed, Carew has always seemed to play his own game, one slightly more purified than the grubby one his colleagues practice. In Carew's game there is fluidity of motion, not herky-jerky action. There is grace and artistry, not mighty swings and misses. And the uniform is clean.