September 21, 2019

Ruminations On Carl Crawford: The Evolution From Ted To Jim-Ed To The Future

March 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Throughout the years, the last few generations of baseball fans in Boston became accustomed to the “Red Sox brand of baseball”, characterized by slower, plodding players who routinely traveled 90 feet at a time around the base paths, except when they (or a teammate) launched a baseball over the Green Monster or into the right field bullpen.

This approach to the game seemed woven into the fabric of the Boston baseball culture during my father’s and my lifetime. Teams were built for the particular and peculiar characteristics of Fenway Park. The style of play was characterized by the club’s stars – players like Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn and Manny Ramirez. Occasionally, the team fielded players like Tommy Harper, Jerry Remy, Otis Nixon and Darren Lewis, but those guys were the exception, not the rule. For the most part, Red Sox clubs were largely devoid of speed.

The current ownership has seemingly adopted a different philosophy. They have already changed the fortunes of the franchise, but the early success has had little to do with the new philosophy in the front office. The ’04 world championship squad had only player (CF Johnny Damon) who could be classified as having much in the way of speed… the ’07 championship team had just two players (Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo) who would be labeled as “speedy”.

But with a new decade underway, the front office has compiled a roster that is more balanced. The 2011 lineup features speedsters Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as 2B Dustin Pedroia (who has stolen 20 bases twice in his four-year career)… the bench includes fleet-footed Mike Cameron and speedy Darnell McDonald (who stole nine bases last year in abbreviated action). And let us not forget Ryan Kalish – the heir apparent in right field – who will start the year in Pawtucket. He is just a phone call away, and has stolen 20+ bases twice in his brief minor league career.

This week, we got our first glimpse of the future of Boston baseball – a future that will be epitomized by Carl Crawford, at least in the short-term.

As he prepared to patrol left field for The Olde Towne Team on Monday, Glen Ordway’s well-worn exclamation came to mind on a couple of occasions: “Why don’t we ever get players like that?”

It was a puzzler that be-deviled us for years: Why didn’t we EVER get players like that, in the prime of their careers? After Yaz, we watched in bemusement as players like Jim Rice and Mike Greenwell and Manny Ramirez patrolled left field – to say their defense was a sometimes-painul adventure would be an understatement of incredible proportions. We watched with incredulity as former GM Lou Gorman wondered aloud, “What would we do with Willie McGee?”, only to turn around and sign 1B Jack Clark to a multi-year contract just one year later.

And so today I thought about the long and winding road. I considered that Yaz had moved to first base by the time I appreciated the finer points of the game. I contemplated Rice’s indifference, Greenwell’s largely-ineffectual efforts, and Ramirez’ abject incompetence. 

Then I started fantasizing about Crawford and Ellsbury and Kalish.

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While Monday’s contest wasn’t REALLY Crawford’s debut in a Boston uniform (I reserve such designations for regular season games), it had tremendous meaning for the new left fielder, “I was just trying to take it all in… still thinking ‘I am actually in a Red Sox uniform,’ and thinking about all that stuff. I was just kind of trying to take it all in and trying to focus on the game at the same time.”

He continued, “It felt good just to put on the uniform, to finally get out on the field and play a game. I was a little nervous at first, but I was happy to get (the first game) out of the way.”

There will be other, more meaningful, firsts this season: Opening Day, the home opener, the first game against the NY Yankees, etc. They will all mean more than today. And in all of them, he will fly around the bases… and fly around the outfield. He will make it look effortless… and he will be brilliant.

He and Ellsbury and Pedroia and Kalish will soon help Red Sox Nation forget about the past, except to know the current front office has learned from the past and then turned the page on it.

Said Crawford, “I’m going to play the way I play… I’m going to have the big guys behind me, so I can still steal and get pitches for those guys to hit… What’s the potential of it? The sky is the limit.”

The page has been turned. The year I became a baseball fan (1967), Red Sox players arrived at spring training hoping to avoid 100 losses and get out of the basement in the American League… this year, several players arrived in camp talking about the possibility of winning 100 games. This year, more than any other in my life time, the sky truly appears to be the limit.

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