Growing up as a young Devil Ray-ling, I started collecting baseball cards around the year 2005.
As I opened pack after pack, I excitedly scoured through my new cards in search of members of the Devil Rays. Most of the time, those hopes were dashed as I flipped through the seemingly endless horde of Yankees and Red Sox players.
Nevertheless, once upon a time I finally stumbled upon a card featuring the star of the 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays, outfielder Carl Crawford...at least so I thought.
Carl Crawford was an incredible athlete during his days in high school and very highly sought after by myriad universities and professional teams for his prowess in a variety of sports. At one point in time, he had an offer to be a point guard for the University of Southern California and he was committed to the University of Nebraska as an option quarter back.
However, during the second round of the 1999 draft, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Carl Crawford with the 52nd overall selection and eventually signed him for just over $1.2M. Crawford surged through the Devil Rays system, gaining notoriety as one of the top prospects in the game.
During the 2002 season, he’d make his big league debut and garner a full-time role with the team by the start of the 2003 season. During this campaign, Crawford established himself as one of the top players on the roster and a potentially budding star in the game.
In 2004, Crawford cemented this status with a breakout season in which combined his explosive power with some surprising pop and he accrued 5.1 fWAR over 152 games.
Over the next several years, Crawford continued to add to his resume, capping off his Rays career in 2010 in which he accrued 7.7 fWAR and procured a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove.
During the following offseason, Crawford received a massive payday from the Boston Red Sox, but he would struggle mightily over the duration of that contract, splitting time between the Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was released in 2016, and hasn’t been in professional baseball since.
Now, onto the card in question.
This is 2005 Topps Total Baseball Card #80
One thing is obvious, the player captured on the baseball card is NOT Carl Crawford, a career left-handed hitter.
So who is the player that is captured on the card?
It became my hypothesis that the player who was placed on the card was famed Rays utility player, Damian Rolls.
During his 2004 season with the Devil Rays, Damian Rolls donned the number 10, which is a simple typo away from Crawford’s number 13 in the mind’s eye. The Topps card designers or photographers simply could have mis-typed Rolls’s jersey number when classifying him in their archives! Rolls and Crawford are similar enough in appearance that they didn’t notice the mistake...
The other strong evidence supporting that this is Rolls and not Crawford is the fact that the hitter in the picture is clearly hitting from the right-handed side of the plate. Crawford has never once been on the right-handed side of the plate, while Rolls spent his entire career on that side.
A quick googling of ‘Carl Crawford mistake card’ doesn’t bring up anything of merit, so clearly nobody else cared enough to bring it up...
Topps made a mistake.
Anyway, this series of articles isn’t been about Topps and their mistakes, it’s about uncovering the moments that are displayed on a card, so let’s get down to business and see if my theory is right.
Damian Rolls came to the Devil Rays during the 1999 Rule 5 draft and would be used sparingly by Tampa Bay over the next five seasons. He actually accrued 1.9 fWAR in 2003. Rolls played his final game with the Devil Rays and of his big league career on October 3rd, 2004.
In the picture captured for the card, we have a glimpse of the faux-Crawford, mid-swing, with a view of the Rays dugout and some fans in the background.
We will have to determine everything we can from the card based solely off that.
The way the dugout looks reminds me a lot of Camden Yards in Baltimore and it appears to a bright and sunny day, evidenced by the short sleeves donned by Rolls and the sunglasses worn by the unknown player in the Rays dugout.
Damian Rolls partook in four games in Camden Yards during the 2004 season, and had plate appearances in just two of those four contests. Those two games were on April 21st and July 7th, both of which started at 7:05.
During the month of April, the weather in the northeastern part of the United States can be pretty fickle, so I’m going to assume that Rolls wouldn’t be sleeveless and sunglasses likely wouldn’t be needed as well, leading me to believe that the moment captured on the card was on July 7th, 2004.
Rolls was batting second for Tampa Bay that night and singled in his first plate appearance. He was a key cog for the Devil Rays that night, as he went 3-5 and knocked in three runs and came around to score twice.
According to timeanddate.com, the sun set in Baltimore on July 7th, 2004 at approximately 8:35pm.
In a usual baseball game, the first three innings generally take about a hour to complete, however, with the Devil Rays running up the score during the first inning, I would wager that by the time the 3rd inning came around, the game was already well past their first hour of play. I believe this photo confirms that assumption:
The photo directly above is that of Rocco Baldelli and Brian Roberts during the bottom of the third inning and the field is clearly being illuminated by the stadium lights, thus illustrating that the sun is no longer shining brightly down on the field.
This leads me to assume that the picture captured on the card was taken in the first inning of play during Rolls first plate appearance.
Rolls swung the bat three times during that appearance: He swung through a pitch, fouled another, and then singled to left field. It is my assumption that the moment captured on the baseball card is Damian Rolls swing that sent a line drive to left field for a single.
An interesting note, this card at some point found its way to Carl Crawford as he signed the card in a blue sharpie. The owner of the card has since made it available on ebay, so it’s available for purchase at the low, low price of $39.99, plus free shipping!
When Carl Crawford signed this... did he notice it wasn’t him?