By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
SAN DIEGO – Long before Rod Carew started the Heart of 29 campaign with the American Heart Association, he distinguished himself as one of the best hitters in baseball history by winning seven American League batting titles, the most by any player since 1920.
Major League Baseball decided it was time to honor that in a big way. So just before the first pitch of its annual All-Star Game on Tuesday, the league held a surprise ceremony to announce that, from now on, the top hitter in the AL each season will receive the “Rod Carew American League Batting Champion Award.”
Fans gave a standing ovation as Carew, his wife Rhonda and their kids Devon and Cheyenne walked onto the field. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred greeted Carew in front of a prototype of the statue and said, “This is really well-deserved.”
Carew waved appreciatively to the crowd, but hardly smiled. He was overcome by two powerful emotions: sadness that his friend Tony Gwynn, who died of cancer in 2014, couldn’t be there to accept the NL honor being named for him, and humbled by his own mortality.
“He knows how close it was for neither of them being here,” Rhonda Carew said.
Carew suffered a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest last Sept. 20. Brought back from the brink of death, he stabilized for a few days then went into extreme heart failure. The left side of his heart could no longer efficiently pump blood to the rest of his body, so doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, to help regulate blood flow. While the machine could keep him alive for years, he is hoping to get a heart transplant. It could happen later this summer, before the first Rod Carew Award is even decided.
Carew’s devotion to beating heart disease and boosting the word about prevention and awareness led to the creation of Heart of 29. It formally launched in January, and has been celebrated throughout spring training and in home games of the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and at the All-Star FanFest on Monday. The Boston Red Sox are hosting an event next Wednesday, followed by more events at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, during the weekend festivities surrounding the induction of the newest class of honorees.
Carew was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1991 following a 19-year career with the Twins and Angels. He retired with 3,053 hits and a .328 batting average, both near the top in baseball history. He won his seven batting titles over a span of just 10 seasons, with streaks of four in a row and six in seven years. Only Ty Cobb won more AL titles, the last coming in 1919.
At his home, Carew proudly displays the silver bats he received in recognition of those batting titles; Devon and Cheyenne laughingly recalled shining the silver as chores when they were kids. Yet the hardware didn’t come from MLB. Instead of the league formally recognizing the batting champion, the award came from Louisville Slugger, the league’s official bat-maker.
Gwynn won eight NL batting titles. His career began as Carew’s was winding down, and the two became fast friends.
Several years ago, the two posed for a photo alongside their combined 15 silver bats. Carew said proceeds from sales of that image raised more than $100,000 to support the family of one of his friends, a former photographer for the Minnesota Twins who died from cancer at 44.
“Rod is one of the most highly decorated players in American League history, who made 18 straight All-Star appearances in his Hall of Fame career,” Manfred said in a statement. “Tony is considered one of the greatest hitters in the history of the National League, and there is no better place to honor him than in San Diego. Major League Baseball is pleased to recognize their extraordinary careers by naming our batting crowns in their honor.”