PLACENTIA, Calif. -- The pop of a champagne cork replaced the crack of a bat at Rod Carew's hitting school here last night as Carew interrupted lessons to celebrate his election to the Hall of Fame.
In voting by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Carew, who batted .328 in his career, was easily elected in his first year of eligibility and will be inducted at Cooperstown, N.Y., July 21.
He will be joined by pitchers Gaylord Perry and Ferguson Jenkins, who both were elected in their third year of eligibility. Rollie Fingers, baseball's all-time save leader, failed in his first try, and Jim Bunning, appearing on the ballot for the 15th and last time, was again denied.
Carew, who spent 12 years with the Minnesota Twins and seven more with the California Angels, called it the highlight of his career, an unreal feeling that resisted description.
"When you're suddenly sitting there with a lot of the great hitters you've always been compared to, well it's a great honor," Carew said. "I want every kid to know that the opportunity is there."
Carew, 45, said he could never have envisioned making the Hall of Fame as a youngster growing up in Panama, listening to games on Armed Forces radio and using a broomstick for a bat.
He almost used a broom in the Hall election, coming within 9.5 percent of a sweep. He needed 75 percent and got 90.5 percent based on 401 of 443 votes.
Jenkins, who won 20 or more games for six straight seasons and a career total of 284, made it by one vote, receiving 334 or 75.3 percent. Despite his credentials, it may have taken Jenkins three tries because of a 1980 conviction for cocaine possession.
A 314-game winner and the only pitcher to receive the Cy Young award in both the American and National leagues, Perry may have needed three tries because he was an admitted cheater who doctored the ball with grease and other substances. This time, he got 341 votes or 77.2 percent.
Bunning, who won 224 games, including 100 in each league, got 282 votes, 63.6 percent. Fingers, who had 341 career saves and was expected to make it, had 291 votes, 65.6 percent.
A player has to be retired for five years before becoming eligible for the ballot. Only 22 of the 209 members of the Hall were elected on the first try, but it has become a pattern recently.
Six of the last eight were in their first year of eligibility. The five before Carew were Jim Palmer, Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench and Willie Stargell.
Carew said he expected to make it eventually but didn't think it would be on the first try because "I know I wasn't always the easiest guy for the writers to get along with. I made that bed and would have had to sleep in it, but I'm happy they didn't hold it against me and want to thank them for that."
It was also felt that some writers would point to Carew's lack of run production, even though he generally hit first or second in the lineup.
"When you get 3,000 hits, some of them have to be important," Carew said. "I think people have looked at my career since I retired and maybe been surprised that there's more there than they thought."
Carew collected 3,053 hits, won seven American League batting titles and hit .300 or more for 15 consecutive seasons. Only Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and Honus Wagner, among all Hall of Famers, had longer .300 streaks.
Citing the support of his wife, Marilyn, and their three daughters, Carew said he also was indebted to former Twins owner Calvin Griffith for giving him a chance when many said he wasn't ready, and the late Billy Martin, then the Twins' manager, for turning him into a player and more.
"Billy became a father to me and I have to hope and believe he's aware of what has happened tonight," Carew said.
He also said he will go into the Hall wearing a Minnesota cap.
"I don't want that construed as a slap at the Angels [who have retired his No. 29]," he said. "It's just the way I feel."
Perhaps, but it is believed that Carew still harbors a measure of bitterness toward the Angels in regard to what he felt was the indelicate and insensitive way they handled his 1985 departure, particularly since he displayed an expensive brand of loyalty after the 1981 player strike. It has been learned that he returned $230,000 in salary even though he was entitled to it because of a strike clause in his contract.
All of that is history. Prior to putting on a Twins cap again, he will first wear a Cleveland Indians cap, having agreed recently to serve as a bunting and base running instructor in spring training after rejecting offers from the Twins and Oakland Athletics to serve as hitting instructor.
Carew said he no longer wants to travel that much and was enjoying his batting school.
There is expected to be more news involving the Hall of Fame tomorrow, when a committee formed by the Hall to re-examine the election process meets in New York, ostensibly to keep Pete Rose off the 1992 ballot.
The screening of ballot candidates and the election itself has been conducted by the writers association for 55 years, but the committee is expected to take Rose's candidacy out of the writers' hands, eliminating any chance of his election by making suspended personnel ineligible for the ballot.
The impetus for the change is believed to come from commissioner Fay Vincent, who is reluctant, according to sources, to present a plaque to a former player currently under suspension, as Rose is for gambling.
Hall officials also have said that some members of the Hall have indicated they would not attend the induction if Rose was elected.