C C to the Rescue
Jeff Roberson / AP
You know it is funny. Carl Crawford has been involved in three All star games during his career and for some reason people have forgotten all about his last two All Star appearances. For some reason they forgot about his solo HR shot in 2007 at AT&T Park during the All Star game in San Francisco, and they certainly have misplaced their minds about his first appearance back in 2002 when he got to play in front of his home town fans in Houston, Texas at Minute Maid Park. Maybe it was the simple fact he went 0-2 in that first game that left him unnoticed by the rest of the baseball world. Maybe they thought he was a one shot deal and would then go back into oblivion in Tampa Bay.
How many people outside of the Tampa Bay area know that Crawford has seven years of major league experience. The way some of the people acted online last night on Twitter, it was if he had just crawled from under some rock and finally got noticed by the rest of the country. It took an amazing play in the seventh inning to rob Colorado Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe of a potential home run for everyone to open their eyes towards C C. You would have thought after the Rays run in the 2008 American League playoffs and during the World Series against the Phillies he would have made a recognizable name that would stand out to voters for the All Star game. But no, he was selected to this games as a reserve based on the player’s votes, not by the fans. And that is a horrible thought that we forgot Crawford on the Fan Vote.
And tell me that moment is not going to be a great attention grabber for people to look at his career. It is a bit of a shame that the players in your league (AL) have more respect and admiration for your abilities than the fans voting online or at the other 29 baseball parks. You almost wanted him for a moment to be cocky last night, but that is not his way. He just flashed that smile we have grown to love with the Rays and showed those dimples that have endeared him to us since 2002. He was truly humbled by the moment. He is truly one of those strong, silent types of guys, and it showed last night in the National telecast. But that also endears him to you. You have to admire and love the fact the guy first brought up his teammates on the AL squad before anything else. He is a total team player at heart.
Dillip Vishwanat / Getty Images
Crawford did show that part of his defensive game that people around the Rays have always known about, but has been brought into the light fully last night. He might have become a victim of his own bursts of speed and easy glides to the ball in leftfield. He makes some plays look so routine that might handcuff other leftfielders in the league. And because he is unafraid to leave his feet to go either vertical or horizontal for the ball, people take that as a ho hum part of his game. But then again, I get to watch him 162 games a year and I am still thrilled with every catch he makes, even the easy ones. There is an art form to the way he plays leftfield for the Rays. He is very fluid in the the outfield, even towards the gaps.
And Crawford is the type of guy you want to win the Ted Williams All Star Game Most Valuable Player Award. He is so humble and thankful to just be playing the game of baseball that you cheer for him and want him to breed success. And people outside of Tampa Bay have not gotten to see him get better every season since 2002. Crawford has gotten improved every season in some form of his game. This might be the first season that the rest of the country has gotten to really know his name, but here in Tampa Bay, we know if Crawford is on the base paths, it is “game on!”
And to think he began the 2009 All Star game on the bench and came on as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and stroked a single in his first at bat. But it was not until the seventh inning that Crawford might have cemented his name into All Star lore with the likes of then Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter’s grab of a Barry Bonds line drive in the 2002 All Star Game. For the next generation, Crawford will be on the defensive highlight reels for the rest of the country to savor and wish he was in their outfield (Sorry everyone he has a team option of $11 million for 2010).
But what does America really know about this guy? What is it that makes him so special to baseball? If you have to ask yourself either of those questions, you have not been watching a whole lot of ESPN “Baseball Tonight” or “Sportscenter” baseball highlights the last 5 years. Even in the early stages of the 2009 season, a huge segment of the country outside of the American League have not even woken up to the potential of Crawford until he stole those six bases again the Boston Red Sox at home back on May 3,2009. But did you know that right now Crawford (44) and team mate B J Upton (31) have become only the second set of AL teammates to reach 30 steals by the All Star break.
And that is only the tip of the type of the offensive iceberg in Crawford’s arsenal. Up to now there have been only five AL players All Time who have had more steals than Crawford’s 44 steals right now before the All Star game. And some of those names are the best basestealers in MLB history. Names like Rickey Henderson (Oak), Ron LeFlores(Det), Vince Coleman (KC) , Mickey Rivers ( NY) and Kenny Lofton (Cle). All of them considered the elite in the art of stealing bases, and Crawford is the new name to be added to that awesome list.
Crawford’s 44 steals so far in 2009 is better than the team totals of eight squads in the MLB right now. Carl is enroute to winning his fifth American League stolen base title in seven seasons. He also stole his 40th base of the season on June 28th against the Toronto Blue Jays in only the Rays 78th game. In the last 15 years, only three other players have reached that mark in less than 78 games. And by hitting the 40 steals plateau for the sixth time in his career, he trails only current Los Angeles Dodger Juan Pierre, who has hit the mark eight times in his career. So you might see a slight pattern here. Crawford is trying to re-write a few of the record books in reference to his knack for stealing bases.
But stealing bases is not his only claim to fame people. He is also currently third in the AL in hits with 109, which is also the fourth best mark in all of baseball. His 109 hits before the break missed the Rays club record by one hit, and he set that record (110 hits) in 2004. And he was not even an All Star that season for the Rays. Crawford has 35 multi-hit games this season to give him the third best mark in the AL. He is in the top ten in AL hitting and is currently ninth in the AL with 58 runs scored prior to the All Star break. This set of statistics also puts him in a special class as one of four AL players All Time to have 40 steals and 100 hits before the All Star break joining again, Henderson, Lofton and LeFlore.
And if all of that is not impressive to you, take the fact he is tied with Toronto’s Adam Lind for the top spot in the MLB by getting a hit with two strikes on him 47 times this season. Crawford played in his 1,000th game earlier this season as a Ray and his totals of 341 stolen bases and 87 triples have not been topped since Ty Cobb played baseball. And if that is not impressive enough for you, since 1900, Crawford is only the seventh player to reach 1,000 hits and 300 steals before he turned 27.
This guy is magic on the field, with his glove or on the base paths. He is the type of guy you build a team around. But because he is not a flashy or even a mildly controversial player, he might fall through the cracks and not get the publicity. While Crawford might have missed out on the free publicity, he has been working his tail off every day for the Rays and finally got to taste the fruits of hard work and determination in 2008 when the Rays shocked the baseball world by making it all the way to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. And Crawford stayed in the background during that playoff run accumulating a .295 playoff average while the Rays soared towards the World Series.
The best praise of the continued improvement of Crawford might have come from his own Al All Star/Rays Manager Joe Maddon after the All Star Game last night. Maddon told Fox Sports last night, “I’ve been talking to everybody all year about this. Carl, he has become a better baseball player since I first met him in 2006. He’s a better defender, a better thrower, a better baserunner, a better base stealer, and it’s all because of his work,” he added. “It’s because of him. His work ethic is that good.”
After a glowing endorsement like that I guess all I can say now is that last night’s heroics might have also begun a timid and long trail towards the Baseball Hall of Fame for Crawford. He doesn’t have the numbers yet, but they are going skyward every game and will only get better. The country saw a Tampa Bay Rays pull a certain Home Run ball from beyond the wall to give the American League home field advantage in the 2009 World Series. No matter who gets there from the AL, they have CC to thank for the home field advantage.
Maybe the rest of the country will now pay attention to the guy we thought deserved a Gold Glove for his work in leftfield. Crawford has put up amazing numbers offensively for the Rays in his seven year tenure with the team. But little do people know that he also has 78 home runs and 473 RBI to go along with his steal totals. He might be the least known of the guy who have the total package in the major leagues. But because he the product of a small market team, he did not get great exposure outside of his broadcast region until the Rays hit the playoffs in 2008.
But winning breeds that type of exposure, and with that extra viewing to the rest of the country got to see the hidden gem in Crawford. Little has been written or even mentioned about his career Fielding Percentage of .991. The guy has made only 21 errors on a total of 2295 total chances in his career. Funny, in the 2008 Rawlings Gold Glove award, two of the three winners play centerfield (Torii Hunter, Grady Sizemore) and the other rightfield (Ichiro Suzuki). No one in the AL got the nod in leftfield. Hopefully in 2009 Crawford can also make a few strides in also pulling in a Gold Glove of his own. The catch in the All Star game might get him some extra consideration in 2009.
I might be biased since I have gotten to watch Crawford mature and take control of his game. He has grown into the kind of player who can change a game just by being on base. Crawford has transformed his game into making a simple walk an almost automatic double and put pressure on A L pitching staffs. Even with teams beginning to anticipate his moves, he is still getting adequate jumps and good base stealing opportunities this season.
He is the type of player who can make a hard play seem easy, and most of all he is the first guy to be there to give props if you do something amazing. His clubhouse presence and leadership have blossomed, just like his exposure to the rest of the country this season thanks to last night’s amazing catch. Maybe now the rest of America will remember his name and vote him into the All Star game in 2010 on the Fan’s vote, where he should be for years to come….count on it!