Hall of Fame duo entertained fans for decades with sweet swings
By Terence Moore
During their Major League careers, I knew Tony Gwynn well, but I didn't know Rod Carew at all. Here's what I mostly knew: When it came to hitting, it made absolutely no sense what both of them did with a bat.
I'm not sure if I ever saw Gwynn make an out. Did he?
As for Carew, he's the 70-year-old survivor of a massive heart attack last September, but you get the feeling he still could climb into a batter's box this weekend and go 3-for-4.
So this proclamation from Major League Baseball was as perfect as the swings of these left-handed batters: Commissioner Rob Manfred announced before Tuesday night's All-Star Game in San Diego that future National League batting champions will win an award named for Gwynn, the Padres icon who died of throat cancer two years ago at 54. Manfred also said the award for the American League batting title will be given in honor of Carew, who spent most of his time in baseball becoming famous with the Twins.
A bunch of little things separated Gwynn and Carew from those other prolific line drive hitters near the end of the 20th century. We're talking about the likes of Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader, and George Brett, who could maneuver a Louisville Slugger with the best of them. There were others such as Robin Yount, who collected more hits (1,731) than anybody during the 1980s, and Mark Grace, who surpassed his peers in the 1990s with 1,754 hits.
But back to those little things of Gwynn and Carew, starting with the nearly incomparable Gwynn, at least in my world. During the nearly 40 years I've covered Major League baseball, I've written as much about Gwynn as I have about anybody. He played for 20 years through 2001, so that's a lot of Gwynn-related words from me.
I was among the first to mention that Gwynn did the highly unusual at the time by carrying a video recorder with him on road trips to study pitchers and his at-bats in his hotel room. We discussed the personal, and his wife, Alicia, even joined some of the conversations. They were married throughout Gwynn's Major League career, and they traveled together during the season, often with their son, daughter and other relatives. Alicia once told me that, in a given year, she only missed attending "maybe 14 or 15" of Gwynn's games.
That's home and away.
My point is, while preparing to write each of those Gwynn pieces, there always were several things I had to check several times due to disbelief. I knew he won multiple NL batting titles, but did he actually win four, five, six, seven, eight of them? I mean, eight? Nobody does that, and what's this about Mr. Padre finishing seasons hitting .368, .370, .372 and .394?
Surely, those were typos, along with the fact that Gwynn also had a potent arm in right field and five NL Gold Glove Awards.
This was the stuff of Mother Goose, Donald Duck and the figment of the imagination of those pining for baseball's ancient days of Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie. Those hitters were great, but none of them had to contend every season with a plethora of flame-throwing starters, relief ace after relief ace, night contests and an arduous traveling scheduled filled with multiple games in a row.
I spent most of my time working as a sports journalist in NL cities. So before Interleague Play, I primarily encountered folks of the other league only during All-Star Games and postseason play. That's why I never huddled much with Carew, but I always realized that he was among the few hitters in Gwynn territory regarding those little things.
Carew won seven AL batting titles. Nobody did stuff like that (you know, besides Gwynn), and nobody dared to copy Carew's batting stance. It was a quirky squat of perfection built only for his slight frame of 6-feet, 170 pounds. He held the bat so delicately, so majestically and so easily on a level plane between the earth and the sky. You got the impression that Carew was in direct communication with the baseball -- and that no matter what was thrown, the pitch would land exactly on the bat where Carew wanted it to.
Then there were other little things for Carew, including All-Star Game trips during each of his 18 years in the Major Leagues before his 19th and farewell season. Plus, there was this: How do you pitch to somebody who can hit to all fields without a glaring weakness at the plate?
I'm talking about Carew and Gwynn.
Just like that, they now have their names attached to hitting awards inside of the leagues they helped make famous. Baseball flashed similar wisdom in 1999 regarding Hank Aaron. To commemorate his 25th anniversary of surpassing Babe Ruth's career home run record of 714, they gave the classy slugger his own hitting award. It's given yearly to the top offensive player in each league after a vote of the fans and the media.
This isn't to say that others aren't deserving of having awards named after them for their contributions as baseball legends.
This is to say that Aaron, Gwynn and Carew are awesome.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.