In this era of monstrous baseball salaries, the man who is actually the highest-paid player in the whole profession gets $800,000 a season, cash on the barrel head every two weeks.
No write-ins like deferred payments, or hidden bonus clauses or late-maturing insurance policies, Yankee style. But a straight $4 million wage for his next five years on Gene Autry's payroll as requested by the payee, who likes simple arrangements.
Autry is paying this kind of money to Rodney Cline Carew, a chap who conforms to none of the usual big-contract types. He is not a big, blow-'em-down pitcher, nor does he hit home runs.
As for showmanship, he regards it as poor taste. As for his hitting, ah, that could be called his higley negotiable saving grace. Rod Carew has been the best hitter in the whole world for the last many years, seven times the American League batting champion. He also owns a deft first baseman's glove, and fall when he opted off the Minnesota Twins, his bat instantly became the most soughtafter weapon in baseball.
Autry won the bidding contest, and Carew landed on the side of the Angels.
Gene Autry has long been able to afford the baseball stars he chose to collect. Neither Caruso nor Sinatra sang for his supper as profitably as did Autry, the vocalizing cowboy who was discoverd by Will Rogers in a Chelsea, Okla., railroad station where he was a relief telegraph operator.
"That your guitar standing there?" Rogers asked the young telegrapher. "Yup," Autry said. "I sing with it." He turned in a couple of songs for Rogers, who said, "Boy, you ought to go on the radio," and helped arrange it. Out of it all came "Back in the Saddle Again," "My Silver Haired Daddy," and later, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which sold a mere 11 million records.
Autry is now a conglomerate and if not the richest owner in baseball he's close to it. And the most unintimidated. After spending $12 million for free agents in recent years and failing to come close to a pennant, he now is sending in all those chips for Carew.
What the Angels got in addition to the most feared of all batsmen was the most quiet of all baseball's millionaires. Carew's manner is as modulated as the calmness of his voice. On the Twins, he was everybody's modest nice guy. These days in the Angels' clubhouse, their new $4 million man manages to make himself only part of the scenery.
The big stick that the quiet man has carried to the plate in his 12 years in the majors has fetched him a.334 lifetime average, including, of course, that gorgeous.338 in 1977 when he took a big run at the long-unreached.400 plateau.
In February, when Carew reported to the Angels, Arthur Patterson, a team executive, was dismayed at what he seemed to note as a lack of cooperation in community affairs by their new star.
"I asked Carew if he would accept the honorary chairmanship of our Orange County Cancer Society and he did not seem eager to do it. We counted on Carew's name and here was a fellow who apparently wasn't interested in this kind of work," Patterson said.
"I was explainign the work of the cancer society to Carew and he seemed to stammer. Finally he said, 'I know about that. I'm the honorary chairman of the Minnesota Cancer Society'." Carew said he was wondering if it would interfere with his work for the Minnesota people.
The Angels already ae showing a profit on Carew. The demand for season tickets was so great when his acquisition was announced that the Angels notified their fans bvy citywide radio that the advance sales offices also would be open on Sunday. They believe Carew is responsible for increased sales of 3,000 season tickets, which at $350 each add up to a $1,050,000 boost in revenue before their new man picks up a bat in regular-season play.
For Manager Jim Fregois, having Carew is a heady thing. "We finished only five games from the playoffs last season, and if Rod Carew isn't worth many more than five games to this club we should give up right now."
There's been nothing like Carew on the Angels, Fregosi said. "What an attitude. He's up at 6 o'clock every morning, running for miles on the golf course next to our motel and taking six or seven of our guys with him."
Fregosi said Carew gave the whole team a lift simply by the act of signing with the Angels. "That means he selected us over the Yankees and all the other teams. What a dream hitter he is. And hitting is contagious, you know. He just glides with the pitch. And I also happen to think he's the best first baseman in the league."
If the baseball world at large was still wondering last summer about the skills of the man who hit that.338 in 1977, Carew offered testimony for himself in the 1978 All-Star game. First time up, and on national television, he tripled, Second time up, he tripled, and rested his case.
Carew said he never intended to sign with a National League team, for the same reason Pete Rose didn't sign with an American League team. "I didn't want to be a stranger to the league's pitching," he said. "I studied AL pitching for too many years."
But he did not shop around like Rose, who snuttled among several cities searching out the best offer. "I don't like to do things like that," Carew said, simply. "I always had an idea I'd like to sign with the Angels."
It was Carew's reluctance to string things out that caused his brother-in-law, his agent, to issue a sort of deadline to the Yankees, who were talking trade with Calvin Griffith, owner of the Twins. This infuriated the Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, who declared nobody could issue a deadline to his club, and said, "Any player who doesn't consider it a privilege to play with the Yankees is of no interest to me."
Carew said, "I simply didn't consider it a privilege to play with the Yankees. I consider it a privilege to play major league baseball with any team I like to play with."
Last year there was that brush with Griffith, who made those remarks about blacks at a civic club luncheon and said, "Anyway, blacks don't buy tickets to ball games."
Carew said, "Sure, I was indignant and I did call Griffith a bigot, and I said I wouldn't play for any plantation owner. But later I realized that Mr. Griffith had always been a very nice person before that and I didn't want to bad-name him."
The Twins weren't very sure about Carew as a hitter when they brought him up from the minors in 1967. Carew said, "I remember one of the men in the Twins' organization saying to me, 'Rod, if you can hit.240 or.250 and play some second base you will be a help to us." Carew hit.292 that first year.
Fregosi is still curious as to why the Twins batted Carew in the No. 2 spot, and often as leadoff all those years. He's batting Carew third, "where he belongs."
Carew said, "I guess I'll have to adjust to a couple of things now that I'm with the Angels," inviting the question with some delight. "Well," he explained, I'll have to abandon my Nolan Ryan stance." He said that against Ryan he would get down as low as he decently could and try to move up on Ryan's rising fast ball.
He adjusts, too, to hardball throwers like Ron Guidry and Jim Palmer, he says. "I shift around to my extreme open stance. It's the only way to pick up the kind of fast ball they throw."
Carew is big enough to hit the home runs he doesn't go for. "I'd rather meet the ball more than the big sluggers do. Things happen when you meet the ball. outside of the good feeling you get. Late last season, I pulled a nice double into right field and I knew it would be a triple because the grass was wet out there and it would take longer to get to the right fielder. In this game, you have to study the climate, too." It was the nearest thing to a Carew boast.
A young mumber of the Angels was in the batting cage when Former Yankee Jerry Coleman, now a broadcaster, was asked about the fellow's potential. Coleman said, "He's an excellent fast ball hitter, but the curve ball and change of pace are a mystery to him."
The same cannot be said of Carew, according to that old curmudgeon, Gaylord Perry, 20-game winner and savant, who was standing nearby. He said of Carew, "That S.O.B. hits everything. Left, right, center and down your throat. He hits the ball everywhere, dammit. Why don't you ask me about a hitter I can get out."
In the clubhouse, when Carew strips to a well-muscled 180 pounds, he shows hanging from his neck a gold pendant, in the form of a rough-hewed H, standing for the Hebrtew word "chai meaning "life." He said it was a present from his father-in-law, "and I've worn it ever sine he died. My family is Jewish, you know." The Panamanian-born Carew married Marilynn Levy of Minneapolis in 1970.
Carew said he wasn't quite sure early in 1967 that he would survive the cut with the Twins. "I was hitting only.225 in early May, with five days to go to the cutdown date. Then, with three days to go, I got it up to.245." Then he said everything turned out fine. The Washington team came in and he got 10 out of 11.