Early lifeCarew is a Zonian and was born to a Panamanian mother on a train in the town of Gatún, which, at that time, was in the Panama Canal Zone. The train was racially segregated; white passengers were given the better forward cars, while non-whites, like Carew's mother, were forced to ride in the rearward cars. When she went into labor, a physician traveling on the train, Dr. Rodney Cline, delivered the baby. In appreciation for this, Mrs. Carew named the boy Rodney Cline Carew.
At age 14, Carew and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in the Washington Heights section of the borough of Manhattan, New York City. Although Carew attended George Washington High School, which MLB star Manny Ramirez also attended, he never played baseball for the high school team. Instead, Carew played semi-pro baseball for the Bronx Cavaliers, which is where he was discovered by Minnesota Twins' scout, Monroe Katz (whose son, Steve, played with Carew on the Cavaliers). Katz then recommended Carew to another Twins' scout, Herb Stein, who along with Katz signed Carew to an amateur free agent contract (at the Stella D'Oro Restaurant in the Bronx) on June 24, 1964.
Starting his minor league career, Carew was assigned to play second base with the Melbourne (FL) Twins in the Cocoa Rookie League and hit .325 over the final 37 games of the season. Promoted to the Single-A Orlando Twins in the Florida State League the following season, Carew hit .303 with 20 doubles, eight triples and one home run. Carew would spend the 1966 season back at Single-A, but this time with the Wilson Tobs in the Carolina League.
Major league careerCarew won the American League's Rookie of the Year award in 1967 and was elected to the first of 18 consecutive All-Star game appearances. Carew stole home seven times in the 1969 season to lead the majors, just missing Ty Cobb's Major League record of eight and the most in the major leagues since Pete Reiser stole seven for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. Carew's career total of 17 steals of home currently puts him tied for 17th on the list with former New York Giant MVP Larry Doyle and fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Collins. In 1972, Carew led the American League in batting, hitting .318, and remarkably, without hitting a single home run for the only time in his career. Carew is to date the only player in the American League or in the modern era to win the batting title with no home runs. In 1975, Carew joined Ty Cobb as the only players to lead both the American and National Leagues in batting average for three consecutive seasons. In the 1977 season, Carew batted .388, which was the highest since Boston's Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, and won the American League's Most Valuable Player award.
On August 4, 1985, Carew joined an elite group of ballplayers when he got his 3,000th base hit against Minnesota Twins left-hander Frank Viola at the former Anaheim Stadium. The 1985 season would be his last. After the season, Rod Carew was granted free agency, after the Angels declined to offer him new contract, but he received no offers from other teams. Carew suspected that baseball owners were deliberately colluding to keep him (and other players) from signing. The suspicion was justified; on January 10, 1995, nearly a decade after his forced retirement, arbitrator Thomas Roberts ruled that the owners had indeed violated the rules of baseball's second collusion agreement, which they had previously agreed to abide by. Rod Carew was awarded damages equivalent to what he would have likely received in 1986: $782,036. Carew finished his career with 3,053 hits and a lifetime batting average of .328.
Carew was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, his first year of eligibility, the 22nd player so elected. In 1999, he ranked #61 on The Sporting News'' list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for Major League Baseball's All-Century Team. Carew has also been inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.
Through 2011, Carew had the best all-time career batting average of all Twins (.334), the second best on-base percentage (.393; tied with Buddy Myer), was fourth in intentional walks (99), and was fifth in hits (2,085) and stolen bases (271; while second in caught stealing, at 123). He also had the best all-time career on base percentage of all Angels (.393), the second-best batting average (.314), and was sixth in both intentional walks (45) and sacrifice hits (60).
Military serviceDuring the 1960s, Carew served a six-year commitment in the United States Marine Corps Reserves as a combat engineer.
Confusion over conversion to JudaismCarew has never formally converted to Judaism. However, his first wife, Marilynn Levy, was Jewish and their three daughters were raised in the Jewish tradition. One source propagating the misconception is the 1994 song, "The Chanukah Song", written and performed by entertainer Adam Sandler, in which he lists famous Jews of the 20th century: "...O.J. Simpson... not a Jew! But guess who is: Hall of Famer Rod Carew! He converted!". Carew later wrote Sandler and explained the situation, adding that Carew thought the song was "pretty funny". Sandler later deleted Carew from future versions of the song, although the original version still gets the most airplay. (Neil Diamond later compounded the error by mentioning the ballplayer in his version of "The Chanukah Song".)
Adding to the confusion is an article written in Esquire magazine in 1976. Sportswriter Harry Stein released his "All-Time All-Star Argument Starter" article which consisted of five different ethnic-based baseball teams. Carew was erroneously named the second baseman on Stein's All-Jewish team.
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Rod married second wife Rhonda in December 2001 and they have two children, Cheyenne and Devon. Devout Christians, the family attends Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. On January 19, 2004, Panama City's National Stadium was renamed "Rod Carew Stadium". In 2005, Carew was named the second baseman on the Major League Baseball Latino Legends Team.
Carew's number 29 was retired by the Twins on July 19, 1987. Carew has had his number retired by the Angels in 1986 and was the 4th inductee into the Angels' Hall of Fame on August 6, 1991.
Carew's youngest daughter from his first marriage, Michelle, was diagnosed with leukemia in September 1995 and her rare Panamanian-Jewish heritage lowered the possibility of finding a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant. In spite of Carew's pleas for those of similar ethnic background to come forward, no matching donor was found and Michelle died on April 17, 1996 at the age of 18. A statue of her has been installed in Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
Carew began using chewing tobacco in 1964 and was a regular user up to 1992, when a cancerous growth in his mouth was discovered and removed. The years of use had severely damaged his teeth and gums, and Carew has spent a reported $100,000 in restorative dental work.