I know the Rays have a brief diversion in Detroit tonight (yes, tonight, because the Tigers refuse to play a day game), but I don’t play for the Rays so there is no rule preventing me from looking ahead.
In case you live under a rock, the Sox come to town for the first time Tuesday night and, a guy that plays leftfield for the Sox used to play leftfield for the Rays. I feel obligated to at least address Crawford’s return but, the series with Boston is so much bigger than CC that I want to just get it out of the way today.
The Trib ran a nice piece on CC’s return that included quotes from former Buc John Lynch, former Bolt Brad Richards, and former turncoat Johnny Damon on returning to former home ballparks. But, after reading it, I couldn’t help but think that none of those examples fits CC quite right.
Sure, he is the best player in franchise history and a cornerstone of some great teams. So, he shares that with John Lynch and Brad Richards. And sure, he ostensibly went to play for a rival, so he shares that with Johnny Damon. But, I think there are three things that set CC apart from Lynch, Damon, and Richards. We never thought CC would be a Ray for life, he never really embraced this community, and he never won a title.
Crawford’s ability was apparent early on, particularly in light of the lackluster players he was surrounded with. Given his ability, and the price tag ability like that demands in this game, only the true believers thought Crawford would wear only one uniform in his career (well, for this franchise perhaps we should say wear only three uniforms and play under only two team names). That wasn’t the case with Damon, who the Sox had the resources to pay. It also wasn’t the case with Richards and Lynch, because they played sports that allow teams to lock up players for life without financially burdening the franchise. For [Devil] Rays’ fans, it wasn’t a question of ‘if’ Crawford would leave but ‘when.’ Moreover, CC made it clear from the beginning of the 2010 season that he was leaving (telling SI “it’s just Carlos and I that are leaving”) so, we didn’t even have any expectation that he’d re-sign last winter. That makes the departure easier because, we had time to prepare.
In contrast, Lynch was cut so suddenly that fans had an impromptu goodbye party/candle vigil at Westshore Mall that looked more like a memorial service than a sendoff. Likewise, Richards was unexpectedly dealt to Dallas and made the point that he didn’t want to leave on his way out the door. That kind of shocking departure makes a return trip harder to swallow.
Also, Crawford only made Tampa Bay his home field, never his home. He didn’t spend any winters here and, as far as I can tell, he didn’t own any real estate here. CC was rarely in the public spotlight any place BUT Tropicana Field and left no lasting impact anywhere off the field. Compare that to Lynch who has been an active member of the charitable and political community even after he stopped being part of the professional sports community here. The John Lynch foundation, for example, continued operating in Tampa when its namesake was operating in Denver.
That doesn’t make CC a bad guy. It just makes it easier to not care about him playing elsewhere. John Lynch was our neighbor. CC was just a guy that worked here.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, CC was on some good teams but was not on any championship teams. Sure, he was here when it turned around in 2008 (even though he got hurt down the stretch) and he was a key contributor in 2010. But playing on good teams is different than being photographed holding a trophy. When Richards came back, we all remembered him as the playoff MVP holding the Stanley Cup. When Lynch came back, we remembered his Super Bowl smile. CC has no iconic Rays image to match those. So, it is easier to forget what he looked like in our uniform.
In the end, I’ll remember him for his penchant for inadvertently saying the funniest thing you’d hear all day more than I’ll remember him for any specific athletic feat. He’ll be there in leftfield tomorrow night and I won’t care. But, in CC’s honor, let’s remember his greatest moment as a Ray:
Q: If you could be any super hero, who would it be and why?
CC: Umm, I’d be Batman because he, uh, works at night.