We continue our countdown of the 25 Best Hitters of the Free Agent Era. The rest of the posts can be found here.
“And I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew!”
Anytime I get to invoke a Beastie Boys lyric, I’ll do it. There’s a reason why the hip hop group mentioned Carew. Dude could hit.
“But wait,” you say, “Carew wasn’t part of the Free Agent Era, he started in 1967!”
Well, “Sir Rodney” had more than half of his at bats after the beginning of free agency, so he qualifies. Besides, who wouldn’t want to have a discussion about pure hitters without talking about Rod Carew?
In today’s game of metrics, there’s probably a bit of a shadow cast on the style by which Rod took the game by storm. He arrived on the scene as a member of the Minnesota Twins in 1967, hitting .292 with an OBP of .341 en route to earning Rookie of the Year honors. It was also the first of 18, yes 18, consecutive All-Star appearances.
His sophomore season of 1968 might really be considered his only “down” year. He batted .273, a paltry sum compared to what he would do over the next decade and a half. Beginning in 1969, Carew racked up 15 straight seasons of hitting better than .300. He crossed the 200 hits mark for the first time in a season in 1973, compiling 203 knocks and batting .350. At age 27, though, Rod Carew still had his best years ahead of him.
In ’74 he batted .364 with an OBP of .433, both league bests that season. He accomplished the same feat next season, leading the league in 1975 with a .359 average and .421 OBP. He also hit 14 homers that year, a career best for Carew. It should also be noted that he was in the midst of another impressive streak of his. Starting in 1973 and extending through the end of his career in 1985, Rod Carew walked at least as much as he struck out in his final 13 seasons.
1976, Rod would have a “down” year, batting a measly .331 and posting his only sub-.400 OBP campaign between 1973 and 1979, falling just short at .395.
But in 1977, Rod Carew went off.
Easily the best season of his illustrious career, Carew batted .388. You didn’t read that wrong. Three. Eighty-eight. What’s impressive about this stat is that it was also done in the season in which he compiled the more at bats than any other season. This high water mark for batting average was the highest of any player in a season since Ted Williams batted .00011 points higher in 1957.
The ’77 season also saw Carew posting career highs in OBP (.449), Slugging (.570), doubles (38), triples (16), runs (128), hits (239), and homers, equaling his ’75 total of 14. With an OPS of 1.019 and all these other incredibly impressive numbers, it’s no reason why Carew took home the MVP honors in 1977.
Carew would play in eight more seasons after his MVP campaign, tacking on more .300 seasons (.333, .318, .331, .305, .319, .339) and finished up at .295 and .280, the last of which being his final season in 1985 with the California Angels. He continued to be an on-base machine throughout as well.
When all is said and done, there’s no denying Carew was one of the most consistent hitters we’ve ever seen. Doesn’t matter what “metrics” you want to use, to bat .300 in 15 straight seasons is absurd. He finished his career at .328, good for 30th in the history of our great game. He also compiled a ridiculous .393 career on-base percentage. He crossed the 3,000 hit mark in his final season, finishing with 3,053 base hits, including 445 doubles, 112 triples, and 92 homers.
Carew didn’t have much power, which is why he finds himself at 14th on our list. But when it comes to pure hitting machines, Rod Carew has to find himself among some pretty slim company.
Here is Carew’s 3,000th hit, amazingly off his former team the Minnesota Twins.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.