Rod Carew was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 after compiling a .328 career batting average and winning seven batting titles as an infielder for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. He is the only native of Panama enshrined in Cooperstown. With the career of fellow Panamanian Mariano Rivera winding down, Carew sat down with William Weinbaum of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" to discuss the Yankees' closer and all-time saves leader, who's expected to join Carew in the Hall five years after his retirement. Here's a condensed version of their conversation.
Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Mariano Rivera?
A: Countryman and cutter -- C, C -- because we were born in the same country and he has this tremendous cutter. People have always wondered, "How can a guy throw one pitch and last so long and get guys out so consistently?" And my only reaction or answer to that is that he knows what he's doing. I've watched him for so many years and I've often wondered how I would hit against him, what adjustment I would make to eliminate that cutter, to take advantage of it.
Q: And when you wonder, what answers do you come up with?
A: Well, over the years that I've watched Mariano face guys -- left-handers and right-handers. I haven't seen too many guys make any kind of adjustment to try to see if they could handle the cutter that he throws, and I've always felt that if you could open your stance more and get a better view of that pitch when it's coming in, you could probably get your hands through the hitting zone a lot easier and maybe do something. With my [open, left-handed] stance, a cutter wouldn't bother me as much, and also because of the way I used my hands. I could probably have taken the cutter to left field -- not necessarily pulled it, but taken it to left field or up the middle.
Q: What is your sense of what he does mentally to opposing hitters, given that what he does is predictable -- he goes with the same pitch?
A: The cutter is what gets into a lot of guys' heads. They worry about it when they're at home plate, and you can't. You might see it four or five times during an at-bat, so you can't be concerned about it, you just have to be concerned about seeing the ball and letting your hands react to where the pitch is, and hopefully you'll do something with it. But the great thing about Mariano when you watch him on the mound is there's no panic, there's no concern; it's like, "Yeah, I've got you, you're mine," and that's the way Mariano has been throughout his career. You never see him sweat, you never see him panic, and he takes it as it goes. If it works out for him, fine. If it doesn't, he walks off the mound and that's it.
Q: He seems to be a universally respected individual in baseball. How does that play into how he's revered among Panamanians?
A: Oh gosh. When I first met him, I felt this calmness about him and around him. Just the way he carries himself. Just the way he speaks. He's a very religious person, and he really believes in our friend upstairs and what he has done and how he has transformed his life. When you're around someone like that, there's nothing but complete respect and awe; he's just a tremendous human being. He cares about kids, cares about family. I wish more of us would have that same feeling and go about our lives the way he has gone about his. He's always been that way, always been conscious of who he is, where he came from and what he can do to help others. He's given of himself to people to help them better themselves.
Q: Another "C," beyond countryman and cutter, is closer. What has impressed you most about his ability to close games?
A: You have some closers that come in and you see some of them charge out of the bullpen and they really get hyped up; the situation calls for them to be hyped up and, "I'm going to get this guy and get the inning over with and get out of there." Mariano comes out of the bullpen, he trots in, it's no big deal. It's just that coolness about him, there's no panic, there's no worry, and I think that has played a tremendous part throughout his career in the way he has done his job. You never hear him complain after a loss if he gets beat, because he knows that's going to happen sometimes, and you never hear him brag about what he has done to save a game. He has maintained that even keel. And he's maintained his whole self and his whole being as a player and a person in the same way.
Q: What do you think your thoughts will be when this countryman joins you in Cooperstown in five years?
A: [I will] welcome him with open arms knowing that he is the greatest closer in the game, and to let him know that this is one of the greatest fraternities in the world.
Q: What were your thoughts as he was honored at the All-Star Game?
A: I thought it was the greatest thing, to pay tribute to a guy in that fashion. I sat in front of the TV and I teared up. I told my wife this is very emotional for me, because I respect this guy so much and he's from where I'm from and he's carried himself in such a tremendous fashion. It's been a great ride for him. I'm very happy for him, very proud of him -- someone I can say is not only my countryman, but my friend. He's a gift.