Angels pull off blockbuster by trading for Carew

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

It was the story of the 1978-79 baseball offseason, one that finally ended when the Angels acquired Rod Carew from the Twins on Feb. 3, 1979.

For the seven-time American League batting champion, the deal proved to be a chance to end his career on his own terms.

“I love the Minnesota fans and like living here,” Carew told the Associated Press following the trade. “But it was no longer any fun.”

The 33-year-old Carew was involved in a bitter war of words with Twins owner Calvin Griffith for more than a year. Following the 1978 season – where Carew hit .333 to win his sixth batting title in a seven-season stretch – Carew let it be known that he would leave the Twins via free agency at the end of the 1979 campaign if he was not traded.

“It was a question of getting something for him or allowing him to play out his option and get nothing,” Twins manager Gene Mauch told the Associated Press.

Griffith explored a variety of trades, including one that would have brought Chris Chambliss, Juan Beníquez and Brian Doyle from the Yankees. But after Carew expressed a reluctance to play in New York, Griffith and Angels owner Gene Autry agreed to a deal that sent Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, Brad Havens and Ken Landreaux to Minnesota.

“I think this is one of the best deals that has been made in the American League for many years,” Autry told the AP.

Carew and Autry immediately agreed on a new five-year contract worth $4 million. Carew joined a star-studded Angels lineup that included Don Baylor, Dan Ford, Bobby Grich and Joe Rudi and featured Nolan Ryan in the rotation.

“I’m sure California will be picked to win our division this year,” said Royals manager Whitey Herzog, whose team had won three straight AL West titles. “But what’s new? They were picked to win our division last year with all the new players they are adding.”

The Carew acquisition, however, may have put the Angels over the top. With Carew hitting .318, the Angels advanced to the postseason for the first time, winning the AL West by three games over the Royals. And though California lost in the ALCS to the Orioles, Autry had assembled a team that would compete for championships for the next several years. The Angels won the AL West title again in 1982 and finished second in both 1984 and 1985.

Carew spent the final seven years of his big league career with the Angels, topping the .300 mark five times and making a push for what would have been his eighth batting title in 1983 (in his age-37 season) – hitting .402 as late as July 13 before finishing at .339, good for second place in the league.

He recorded his 3,000th career hit in his final season of 1985, finishing his 19 big league seasons with a .328 batting average, 3,053 hits, 18 All-Star Game selections, the 1967 AL Rookie of the Year Award and the 1977 AL MVP.

Carew was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series