Search

CAREW'S CREW THE FIRST-PLACE ANGELS ARE PILING UP HITS UNDER THE TUTELAGE OF BATTING GURU ROD CAREW

July 17, 1995
July 17, 1995

Table of Contents
July 17, 1995

CAREW'S CREW THE FIRST-PLACE ANGELS ARE PILING UP HITS UNDER THE TUTELAGE OF BATTING GURU ROD CAREW

Three months after being drafted out of college in 1993,
California Angel pitcher Brian Anderson walked up the dugout
steps of Tiger Stadium in Detroit and felt the thrill of a
once-in-a-lifetime moment: stepping onto the field as a major
leaguer for the first time. He fairly floated toward the old
ballpark's vast outfield, where he turned his Angel cap backward
to join his fellow pitchers in running drills.

This is an article from the July 17, 1995 issue Original Layout

"All of a sudden," he says, "I see someone running in a dead
sprint from the batting cage out to centerfield, and he's coming
right at me." It was Rod Carew, the California hitting
instructor and enforcer of the unwritten rules of major league
conduct--the Judge Dredd of coaches.

Carew drew within inches of Anderson's face and barked, "Rookie,
you ain't been a big leaguer more than 20 minutes, and you're
acting like you don't belong here. I don't ever want to see you
wear your cap like that again."

Carew imposed his standard fine: a dozen golf balls, payable
within 24 hours. The same punishment applies to rookies who dare
to sit in the privileged rear section of the team plane, as well
as to any player guilty of such other grievous crimes as wearing
a T-shirt on the road, showing too much chin stubble and
carrying a suitcase from a hotel room to the lobby (in the Carew
view, major leaguers don't carry luggage; that's a valet's job).

So relentlessly vigilant is Carew that by the end of Anderson's
first day in the majors he already was in the hole for seven
dozen golf balls. "He shows no mercy, no mercy at all," says
Anderson, who is now California's No. 5 starter.

Welcome to the Angels, kid, where just about nothing escapes the
ever watchful eyes of Carew, a Hall of Famer who won seven
American League batting championships. Whether patrolling hotel
lobbies, breaking down game tapes at four in the morning or
sending instructions from the dugout to one of his hitters via a
shrill whistle and sign language, Carew has California looking
good.

The Angels reached the All-Star break in first place (tied with
the Texas Rangers at 39-30 atop the American League West) for
the first time since 1989. They did so largely on the strength
of the Carew Crew, an offense that has scored more runs than any
other team in baseball--yes, even more than the muscular
Cleveland Indians--to the surprise of even the California front
office, which began the season scouring other clubs for a hitter
to plug into the middle of its lineup. That search has been
called off because Carew helped raise the batting average of
centerfielder Jim Edmonds, a career .269 hitter, 22 points to
.291 at week's end; catcher Greg Myers to .254 (up 22 points);
first baseman J.T. Snow to .305 (up 73 points); shortstop Gary
DiSarcina to .324 (up 82 points); and designated hitter Chili
Davis to .359 (up 89 points).

How important is Carew to the Angels? "Got all night?" DiSarcina
says in reply to that inquiry. Under Carew's guidance, both
DiSarcina, 27, a career number 9 hitter, and Edmonds, 25, who's
holding down a regular job for the first time in the majors,
made it to the All-Star Game. "I wish I could take him with me,"
DiSarcina says.

Davis would be an All-Star, too, but for a balky hamstring that
landed him on the disabled list on June 20. He credits Carew
with "raising my game to another level." Over the last two
years, Davis, who turned 35 in January, has hit .326 with 35
home runs and 122 RBIs in 158 games.

"How good is he?" utility infielder Spike Owen, a .243 hitter
before joining California last season, asks about Carew. "Last
year I hit .310."

The Angels also led the majors in walks (4.5 per game) and
on-base percentage (.361) at the All-Star break, scored in
double figures in 11 of their first 66 games, lost as many as
three games in a row only once and crammed for every game like a
caffeine-wired valedictorian during finals week. California
hitters meet every day to watch videotape and discuss the
tendencies of opposing pitchers, a major upgrade from the
pre-Carew years when an Angel once asked in the dugout 15
minutes before the first pitch, "So, who are we facing tonight?"

"Rod polices us," says utility player Rex Hudler. "Guys gripe
sometimes about so many meetings, but you know five minutes
later we're going to be as quiet as a bunch of church choirboys
listening to the preacher. If you're a hitter, he's the guru on
the top of the mountain. Rod's the biggest leader we have on
this team."

Says Tony Phillips, the extraordinary leadoff hitter who was
acquired in an April trade with Detroit, "Rod has the mentality
of a player. He thinks he's still a player."

Carew, who will turn 50 on the final day of the season, retired
after 1985 with 3,053 hits and a .328 lifetime average in 19
seasons with the Minnesota Twins and the Angels. He operated a
hitting school near his house in Anaheim, where major league
players were known to enroll--including Davis, who checked in
after the 1990 season and then helped Minnesota to a world
championship with a career-high 29 home runs. But it was Carew's
work with lesser-known pupils that made him into a better
teacher. "The biggest thing was working with eight-, nine-,
10-year-olds," he says. "That taught me how to be patient. You
can't expect them to do everything right all the time. It's the
same way with major leaguers."

In 1992, Buck Rodgers, then the California manager, asked Carew
to join his staff. Carew had turned down similar offers from
Cleveland and Minnesota, but he accepted the job with his
hometown team even though he dreaded the air travel. Carew is
such a nervous flier that when he was still a player he once
tried, without success, hypnotic therapy. He also bought himself
a recreational vehicle, confining almost all of his off-season
travel to the Carew-ser. "I thought as I got older it would get
better," he says. "It hasn't. How do I get through it? With a
lot of diarrhea. Of course, now whenever we hit a little bumpy
air, the players are all over me."

The Angels hit a league-worst .243 in Carew's first year with
them. Since then, they've improved annually, to .260, .264 and,
as of Sunday, .275. "It's taken a few years for the results of
his work to show up," says DiSarcina. "It doesn't happen
overnight."

There is no better example of those results than DiSarcina, one
of five current Angel starters to come out of the 1988 or '89
drafts. When he reported for spring training this season, his
fourth as the California shortstop, he asked Carew, "What do you
think I should work on?" Said Carew, "You've improved on pitch
selection, gotten better at using the whole field, so let's work
on driving the ball."

Carew emphasized to DiSarcina the importance of "getting his
hands through the hitting zone" while deemphasizing lower-body
movement. "You don't need to stride to hit the ball hard," Carew
says. He would throw batting practice to DiSarcina from 35 feet
away and insist that he take no stride at all. With quicker
hands--and added muscle developed under the supervision of the
Angels' first full-time strength coach, Tom Wilson--DiSarcina
already has put together career highs in home runs (four),
doubles (21) and extra-base hits (29).

"What Rod's done for me is beyond words," DiSarcina says. "He
doesn't overhaul hitters. He doesn't teach one style of hitting.
He takes what each player has and fine-tunes it."

Carew is particularly adept at improving what's inside a
hitter's head, as he did with Davis, who says, while tapping the
side of his hairless pate, "and you need to do some work to get
in here." Likewise, Carew helped turn around Edmonds by
chastising him for wasting at bats. "Jim could always hit," he
says. "But if he missed a pitch he thought he should have hit,
he'd get angry and let that at bat stay with him. I can't let my
hitters get down on themselves. I tell them, 'I'm going through
every swing with you. If I don't get down on you, don't get down
on yourself.'"

At the All-Star break, the buoyed Edmonds not only owned the
longest hitting streak in the league this year (23 games, two
shy of Carew's career high, which is the club record), but he
also had popped 13 home runs and driven home 52 runs (both
career highs) and played so well he had to cancel his jet-skiing
trip with Carew on the Colorado River this week-because he was
headed to Arlington, Texas, for the All-Star Game.

"He keeps me loose, and he keeps me working hard," says the
6'1", 190-pound Edmonds, who's such an energetic player that he
has dropped 17 pounds since Opening Day.

Snow, too, needed more help with his mental approach than with
his stroke. He hit six home runs and batted .343 in his first 19
games with California in 1993, but he wound up in the minor
leagues three months later. He failed to make the Angels out of
spring training last year and then hit only .220 after he was
promoted on June 4. "Jack hit a lot of home runs early and
started getting tugged in different directions," Carew says.
"His concentration fell off, and he lost his focus. To me, he's
more of a gap hitter."

Snow has been one of California's most consistent batters this
season, going hitless in consecutive games only twice and
driving in 51 runs while remaining a long-ball threat (11 homers
through Sunday).

Carew's pupils have learned their lessons so well that he often
designates two or three players to run the daily hitters'
meeting. Of course, he provides the supplies: videotapes and his
extensive hitting charts. During a game he keeps a color-coded
chart in which he logs every count, the type of every pitch and
the game situation. When he goes home, he watches the game again
on tape and records the location of every pitch into another log.

He's also been known to pull a hitter into the clubhouse video
room between innings and pop in two videotapes--one monitor
showing the batter's previous at bat and another showing an at
bat from perhaps a month earlier. "See, did you know you're
doing this differently?" he might ask.

Then there is the penetrating Carew whistle, his device for
grabbing a hitter's attention during an at bat. "You can't miss
it, no matter how many people are in the stadium," Hudler says.
He then relays advice with hand signals--such as two palms
downward for stay down on the ball and a twist of both hands for
use your hands.

Under Carew and Angel manager Marcel Lachemann, who also keeps
long hours and sweats the details, California is well-drilled.
All the Angels, for instance, line up neatly on the top step of
the dugout for the national anthem. (By contrast, six Brewers
straggled to the top step of the visitors' dugout last Friday in
Anaheim.) The daily workout schedule is a computer-driven,
laser-printed, letter-quality page of information that includes
a best-of-Bartlett's motivational slogan of the day. So who says
the Angels don't look good on paper?

"I may be old-fashioned," Carew says, "but I want them to
respect that uniform they wear. When you've got that on, you're
a big league ballplayer, and you should act like a big league
ballplayer and work like a big league ballplayer."

Those who don't measure up to Carew's standards are likely to
find him in their face, as did catcher Andy Allanson, whom Carew
chewed out last Friday for not showing up for voluntary early
hitting. "The only time you're out early is when I have to tell
you," Carew snapped.

Most offenders, of course, also must cough up the dozen golf
balls, a penance not to be taken as lightly as pitcher Mark
Holzemer did one day in 1993. Carew gathered some players in the
outfield, held up a bag and said, "I want you to see what one of
your teammates thinks is funny." He turned over the bag and out
dropped a dozen pink and powder-blue Lady Butterfly golf balls.
Carew was not laughing. "That," Anderson says, "cost him another
dozen and money."

By now Carew could replace his defunct hitting school with a
driving range, but he doesn't golf anymore so he turns his booty
over to the Angels' trainers and other coaches. It is not the
golf balls he is after.

"I've noticed," he says, "guys have started stocking boxes of
balls in their lockers."

He smiles. These Angels learn their lessons well.

COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Carew (on his side) finds just how heavy the Angel hitters are. [California Angels players piled on top of Rod Carew]TWO COLOR PHOTOS:PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO DiSarcina (top) and Snow were batting 70-plus points over their career averages at week's end. [Gary DiSarcina batting; J.T. Snow batting]COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Edmonds's 23-game hitting streak fell two short of the club record--held by his batting mentor. [Jim Edmonds dropping bat and beginning to run to first base]COLOR PHOTO:PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Before games, Carew drills his hitters, in this case Salmon, on the finer points of the swing. [Rod Carew watching Tim Salmon practice]