You know that old saying about how familiarity breeds contempt? I would tweak it and say that familiarity mostly breeds apathy. I don't hate Carl Crawford. Never will. I have no ill will or distaste for him. I've grown to accept his - at times ridiculously - flawed approached in pitch selection and love his ability to turn just about any batted ball in left field into an out.
Yeah, I've written about trading him and people don't like that very much. I don't blame them. It's not like I want to trade Crawford on a personal level though. It's never personal. Crawford is no longer the shiny new toy on a team full of ‘em. Evan Longoria is the star, David Price is the arm, and Crawford is just sorta there, in the background, much like he was in the league picture years ago.
For years I've thumbed my nose at the ‘franchise player' talk. Not the concept of having an extremely talented player on your team, one that everyone identifies with, but rather the guy who simply has to retire with the team. To be honest I'm still not a huge fan of it. Blame it on the baseball environment or whatever. I remember seeing Fred McGriff look absolutely horrible when he retired as a member of this organization and I'd rather not see my other favorites do the same.
Mortality plays a part. Realizing that McGriff was too old to play is a startling realization that time does not stand still. Nobody wants to be old. Some want to be older or the oldest, but not old. Most baseball players aren't like Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson or Roger Clemens, performing well into the days they should be hanging them up and doing it better than most of the baseball player population. Some are Willie Mays or Ken Griffey J. or countless other guys who held on too long and, while not ruining their legacy, leave that trace of fear in their most tenured fans.
But this isn't about mortality or fear in human nature, it's about Crawford.
He sounds like the perfect athlete when you talk about his options as a high school senior. Pick the 10 most prestigious jobs in collegiate sports during the 1990s and you end up with a list that includes Nebraska quarterback and UCLA point guard. He also had the baseball thing going, but I don't think "Left fielder, Tampa Bay Devil Rays" was something too many 18-year-olds dreamed about back in the late 90s.
Sure, he's said some things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I'm completely wrong for ever questioning Carl's selfish take on changing positions or not watching film or whatever else it was. Crawford knew what worked for him and when he reached the point in his playing career where he felt he needed more than instincts, he took up film watching. He didn't want to stand in center some days, which, okay, you probably don't ask Evan Longoria to play shortstop when Jason Bartlett gets a day off either. I regret writing negative things and have learned from it.
Carl doesn't like to talk, but when he does, there's a scintilla of humility that makes you realize he doesn't particularly care for quotes or commercials or endorsements. He's blunt, sure, and sometimes that gets him in trouble, but he's honest to the point where you can't help but love that he speaks from his soul instead of his agent's handbook. That's when he says something though, and I suppose that makes the shots at Delmon Young last spring all the more damming.
Of course he's always been a very good baseball player, even if the last two years were closer to "above average" than "superstar". So when I glanced on his FanGraphs paged and noticed he was worth 4.6 wins to date, I scratched my head and kicked myself for not noticing earlier.
It's odd because I look at the Rays WAR values weekly, and I've noticed his name and placement, probably the number too, but it didn't click. Crawford's previous career high came in 2005 with 4.9 WAR. That was wedged in between seasons of 4.7 and 4.5 WAR, and may have been the best season in his career. At least until now.
Okay, he's still hacking like usual. That little run of discipline wore off quickly, but whatever, he makes it work. His walk rate is up and so are his strikeouts but his BB/K ratio is still the best of his career. No, he's not a power hitter, his ISO is .156. Three years ago we'd be wondering what's wrong with Carl's pop, nowadays we just take it for what it is. He'll probably never hit 20 home runs barring a move to a hitter's park, but he is hitting home runs at a wicked rate per fly ball at 10.3%. That's the second highest of his career.
His fielding raises more brows than Botox and his routes are sometimes lumpy enough to need an injection of the anti-aging serum. He is a fantastic base stealer. I would say the best in baseball. Speed might be the attraction and vehicle, but his mind and understanding of the nuances surrounding pickoff moves, first movement, and acceleration are off the charts.
He is by no means the textbook baseball player and yet you feel like there's enough text to be written on him to fill up a book. We will all be lucky if Desmond Jennings were to become a facsimile of Crawford. This raises my point. This may be Carl Crawford's last run with the Rays. Whether the finances work or not is unbeknownst to us, which is exactly why, no matter your stance on trading Crawford or letting him walk or extending him, take these next 40-something games, and cherish every play, at-bat, stolen base, and absorb more memories.
Take pictures, record games, buy Crawford memorabilia, and just make sure you have your fill. Let the Crawford body of work pervade throughout your baseball soul, so when he makes that half-diving grab for his next team, you can simply recall the times when he did it better for the Rays. Crawford is easily the best player in franchise history, ignore the longevity of the franchise and focus on the icon before he becomes a blur, and we all know, Crawford is extremely good at making his presence nothing but history.
I've taken him for granted to this point in the year, but no longer. I'm not going to look back in 10 years and wonder where that time went, meanwhile Crawford hangs the spikes up, moving on to teach his son about reading left-handers pickoff moves.