The chances are that if you’ve been a loyal Tampa Bay Rays fan for a while, then you know the name Carl Crawford quite well. He was a former outfielder and team leader within the Rays organization for nearly a decade.
Crawford arrived on the Rays from the Triple-A Durham Bulls midway through the 2002 season and shortly before he turned 21 years of age. That season didn’t turn out too well as Crawford hit to only a .259/.290/.371 line with 9 stolen bases in 14 attempts in 63 games. Crawford didn’t have the electric start the Devil Rays were looking for, and it was within the realm of possibility that he would never reach expectations.
In 2003, however, Crawford put himself on the baseball map stealing 55 bases, good enough for the AL stolen base crown. He would be the fourth youngest ever to win that award following in the footsteps of Ty Cobb, Rickey Henderson, and Tim Raines. He would also finish with a solid .281 batting average and 54 RBI.
Crawford would continue to get better in 2004, stealing 59 bases, driving his average up to .296, and making his first All-Star Game. Crawford improved in every offensive category that season and established himself definitely as one of the most exhilarating players in baseball. He would wind up leading the league in both stolen bases and triples (19).
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Although Crawford did not lead the majors in stolen bases in 2005, he set career-highs in home runs (15), RBI (81), and batting average (.301). He would come third in the American League with 46 stolen bases and first in triples with 15. Crawford pushed himself to improve in 2006 and he managed to get even better. He reclaimed his stolen base throne with 58, led the American League in triples for a third consecutive year, and upped his home runs (18) and average (.305) yet again.
By the 2007 season, Carl Crawford had proven himself one of the best all-around players in baseball. In that season, he would hit steal 50 bases, bat .315 with 80 RBI, and make his second All-Star game. Ironically enough, though, the Rays’ best season in 2008 marked a down year for Crawford. Crawford made his club-record 6th consecutive Opening Day start with the team, but injuries help him to just 109 games and his lowest slash stats since 2003.
Crawford achieved a measure of redemption during the American League Championship series he batted .345 with a triple, two doubles, and three stolen bases. He also drilled a pair of home runs in the World Series. That sort of performance made people more optimistic about Crawford entering 2009, and he delivered the expected results, hitting .305 with 60 stolen bases and 15 home runs.
Then, in his final season with the Rays, Crawford would have one of his best offensive years. He set career-highs with 19 homers and 90 RBIs and batted .307 while stealing 47 bases. He also led the American League again with 13 triples. For his efforts, Crawford finished 7th in the AL MVP voting and also earned his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards as he certainly finished his Rays tenure with a bang.
There is little question that Carl Crawford gave everything he could to the Rays organization every season. We knew he had speed from the start, but it is extremely impressive the way he was able to improve at the plate as his career progressed. As talented players around him faltered, Crawford emerged as a franchise cornerstone. Sadly, he would leave to sign with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent after the 2010 season.
On the Red Sox, Crawford struggled, putting up the worst seasons in his career to date. After he hit just .255 with 11 homers and 18 stolen bases in 2011, most of his 2012 season was taken by wrist and Tommy John surgeries. In a deal that was infamous at the time, he was traded to the Los Angles Dodgers along with Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett on August 25th.
Hamstring issues bothered Crawford in 2013, but he showed signs of improvement in his first season with the Dodgers as he batted .283 and stole 15 bases in 116 games. He also reprised his role as postseason hero as he hit .353 with 3 homers and 5 RBI as the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.
Crawford played well again when healthy in 2014, hitting .300 with 8 homers and 23 stolen bases in 105 games, but an ankle injury knocked out much of his season. Those 23 steals were surprisingly his most since he left the Rays following 2010. Now 33 years old, Crawford finds himself reunited with Andrew Friedman and will hope for better health as the Dodgers’ starting left fielder this season.
Four full seasons have now passed since Carl Crawford left the Tampa BayRays, but his legacy as among the greatest players ever to play for the organization remains. The Rays are still trying to recapture the explosiveness on the basepaths that Crawford fostered. In addition, as the Rays outfield enters a time of transition, longtime fans must long for the days of Crawford when the Rays knew that they would have an excellent situation in left field year after year.