I don't want to oversimplify the issue, but apparently every first baseman and every designated hitter in the major leagues is better than Rod Carew.
If that wasn't true, wouldn't some team hire Carew?
And they haven't, have they? A man with a .328 lifetime batting average, a man who won seven batting titles, a man who led his team in batting last year, this same man, Rod Carew, is out of baseball -- at home coaching girls softball no less. Not retired, just unwanted.
Who needs him? Everybody's loaded without him. The White Sox, Twins, Mariners, Pirates, whew, they're tearing the majors apart, aren't they? Those Cubs and Dodgers don't need any hitting either, do they?
Carew hit .280 last year. Obviously, .280 hitters are falling from the skies and I'm lucky I haven't been hit. How else do I explain why nobody needs a .280 hitter, even though the mean batting average in the National League last season was .252, and the mean batting average in the American League was .261?
Sorry, but I find it difficult to type this sentence: Bruce Bochte is better than Rod Carew.
Am I wrong?
Am I writing from my heart and not my head?
Carew's too old, you say.
He's 40, the same age as Davey Lopes and Reggie Jackson, one year younger than Graig Nettles, five younger than Pete Rose. I didn't mention the pitchers who are over 40, since you might say that pitchers aren't the same as everyday players. But as a designated hitter, wouldn't Carew be more fairly compared to a pitcher?
Too expensive, you say.
He made close to $900,000 last season. Perhaps that scared people off. But Carew has said he'd take much less, and yesterday his agent, Jerry Simon, said Carew would willingly play for the average major league salary, and maybe less. "He wants badly to play. We haven't had a chance to discuss money with anyone," Simon said. "Nobody has made us an offer."
No punch, you say.
Certainly not a home run hitter -- two last year, 12 in the last five. Doesn't drive in many runs either -- 39 last year, 179 in the last five. But here are some statistics to consider as well: In nine of his last 11 seasons, Carew hit for a higher average with men on base than with bases empty; in those same 11 seasons, Carew hit .388 with the bases loaded; last season, with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, Carew got the run home 82 percent of the time, third best in the American League.
A singles hitter, you say.
But isn't a two-run home run better than a one-run home run?
The other side in this says that Carew is old; let's be fair, 40 is old. It says that first base and DH are, overwhelmingly, power positions, and Carew has less sock to the knock than his rivals. Look around the league at who's playing first and DH: Murray, Mattingly, Hrbek, Balboni, Evans, Kingman, Thornton -- major longballers. The Angels declined to re-sign Carew because Reggie Jackson suited them at DH, and they wanted the rookie, Wally Joyner, on first. "No one goes in the back room and drinks a beer to getting rid of Rod Carew. That's a terrible, wrenching decision to have to make," said Tom Grieve, general manager at Texas. But you can't fault the move. Joyner is among the majors' leaders in homers and RBI.
If, as seems likely, Carew was to play part-time this season, with a 24-man roster general managers sought more versatility from their extra men. Carew doesn't field or run well anymore. He's there to hit, period. It's admittedly hypothetical, but how would a certain Hall of Famer as Carew respond emotionally to spending most of his time on the bench?
As a Type B free agent, Carew would cost the team that signed him a second-round draft choice. Finally, at $900,000 a year, how much less money is "much less" money?
All things considered, 26 passed.
The general managers I talked with said pretty much the same thing: I can't speak for anyone else, but Rod Carew doesn't fit our situation.
"We're building, not repairing," said Grieve of the Rangers. Texas has Pete O'Brien (22 HRs, 97 RBI last year) at first and Larry Parrish (17, 51) at DH, and they satisfy Grieve. "They hit in the middle of our lineup, and they're our most productive people."
Baltimore is robust at first with Eddie Murray, and Hank Peters doesn't see the need to bring Carew in as a left-handed DH. "If Jim Dwyer got hurt, we might consider a fellow like Carew," Peters said. "Barring that, we think we have good balance. Larry Sheets and Dwyer are doing very well for us."
Cleveland's Dan O'Brien prefers Andre Thornton (22 HRs, 88 RBI last year) at DH and Pat Tabler (.330 this year) on first. "What does Rod Carew do?" O'Brien said. "He swings the bat and plays first base; he can be a DH. We don't need a DH. We don't need a first baseman. Can he pitch? We need a pitcher."
Carew's original team, Minnesota, was the lone team to express interest in him. But Kent Hrbek is a fixture at first, and Roy Smalley is a switch-hitting DH. "For one season Rod didn't make sense for us," said Andy MacPhail.
Who'd have told me something different? There are 26 GMs. Any could have pursued Carew. None did. Where's the proof if not in the pudding?
Looking at individual teams, maybe I realize why this one or that one didn't want him. But I remind myself that the man hit .280 last year, that there's no evidence he can't still play. He's Rod Carew, and it disturbs me to think everyone is passing on one of the greatest hitters of all time. How can you not want such a hitter?