By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Without Rod Carew, Tony Fernandez probably wouldn’t have recorded more hits than any other player in Toronto Blue Jays history.
Fernandez, who rapped out 1,583 hits with the Blue Jays, idolized the Panama-born Hall of Famer and modeled his batting stance after him. And if you were lucky enough to watch both of them hit, you could see the similarities. They both gripped the bat softly and seemed to be able to direct the ball to any field at will.
So it’s not surprising to learn that Fernandez, who was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, would stop by Carew’s baseball school near Los Angeles when the Blue Jays were in town, for some private lessons.
“He would come in after games, late at night,” Carew told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “Some nights, we’d stay there until midnight, one o’clock.”
Like Carew, who batted .388 in 1977, Fernandez also flirted with .400 during a big league season. The Blue Jays great was hitting .400 as late as June 28 of the 1999 campaign.
“He reminds me of myself more than any other player,” Carew told the Los Angeles Times during Fernandez’s torrid hitting stretch in 1999. “He does the things I used to do with my swing. He has the same discipline and focus.”
Fernandez finished 1999 with a .328 batting average, which is the same as Carew’s career batting average.
Born October 1, 1945 in Gatun, Canal Zone, Panama, Carew was signed as an amateur free agent by the Minnesota Twins after he had moved to New York City during his high school years. In 19 big league seasons with the Twins (1967 to 1978) and California Angels (1979 to 1985), Carew amassed 3,053 hits (27th all-time) and was selected to 18 all-star games. Along the way, he also won seven American League batting titles, hit .300 or better in 15 consecutive seasons (1969 to 1983) and collected 2,404 singles (ninth all-time). He was also named AL Rookie of the Year in 1967 and AL MVP in 1977.
“He could move the bat around as if it were a magic wand,” pitcher Ken Holtzman once said of Carew.
Carew’s resume earned him election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, his first year of eligibility. He later opened a baseball school near his home in Peralta Hills, Calif., and became a respected batting coach for the Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. These days, he serves as a special assistant to the president of the Minnesota Twins.
Carew turns 75 today.
On top of his connection with Fernandez, Carew had a few other Canadian connections during his storied career. Here’s a rundown:
– By my count, Carew had two Canadian teammates during his big league career. Dave McKay (Vancouver, B.C.) competed alongside Carew with the Twins in 1975 and 1976 and Kirk McCaskill (Kapuskasing, Ont.) played with the seven-time batting champ with the Angels in 1985. Both McKay (2001) and McCaskill (2003) have been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
– Carew recorded 106 hits – including 18 doubles, four triples and two home runs – and batted .323 in 85 games against the Toronto Blue Jays. He wasn’t quite as successful at Exhibition Stadium where he hit .294 and registered 47 hits in 41 contests.
– Carew had three career, four-hit games versus the Blue Jays. The first came on May 8, 1977 at Exhibition Stadium. He recorded two triples in a game in that contest for the first time in his career and added a double and a single. Later with the Angels, he posted four hits (all singles) against the Blue Jays at Anaheim Stadium on May 26, 1981. He duplicated that feat the following June 17 at Exhibition Stadium when he recorded a double and three singles.
– Carew fared very well against Canadian pitchers. He was 13-for-34 (.380 batting average) against Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland, nine-for-25 (.360) against John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) and 21-for-58 (.362) versus Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.).
– Speaking of Jenkins, Carew was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown along with the Canadian pitching legend and Gaylord Perry on July 21, 1991. On that day, Carew became the first player born in Panama to be elected, while Jenkins was honoured as the first Canadian.