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Cliff Floyd is Rays' been-there guy

ST. PETERSBURG — Cliff Floyd admits, in some ways All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford reminds him a lot of his younger self.

Well, except for one key aspect.

"If I had his speed, I would have ran myself to the Hall of Fame," Floyd joked.

To be fair, Floyd, 35, is a former 20-homer, 20-steal man (twice). But what Floyd brings to his big-brotherlike relationship with Crawford is a history of winning (a World Series title with the Marlins in 1997). Through a career filled with injuries, highs and lows, he has done it the hard (and "right") way.

With Floyd in the twilight of his career — "This may be it," he said — manager Joe Maddon said the club plans to use him almost exclusively as a DH. Although he brings a solid left-handed bat, Floyd's larger impact could come in the clubhouse with guys such as Crawford and centerfielder B.J. Upton.

"We've been learning on our own the past six or seven years, the years I've been here," Crawford, 26, said. "It's been like, you bump your head real bad, and you have to learn from it. Now I'm glad I don't have to go through that anymore. We don't have to fall on our face anymore. We can get advice, and it'll save us from going through all the big trouble."

Floyd loves big twists, especially in movies (his favorite is The Usual Suspects). So his career path, filled with unexpected turns, appears fitting. Born and raised in Chicago, Floyd, the son of a steel plant worker, said he didn't think he would be a pro baseball player.

Drafted by the Expos in 1991, his major-league career was nearly cut short in 1995, when he shattered his left wrist (breaking or dislocating six of the eight bones). Though it temporarily derailed Floyd, it didn't deter him. As a tattoo on his left arm states, "Only the strong survive."

Floyd rehabbed and was traded to the Marlins for their memorable World Series run in 1997. In 1998, he became the first 20-homer, 20-steal player in Marlins history. Though his stints with the Mets (2003-06) and Cubs (2007) included injury setbacks — and the loss of his father, former Marine Cornelius Floyd last year— they both ended with playoff trips.

"I look at myself as a winner, and that's one thing you can't take away from me," Floyd said.

"He's a man's man," Maddon said. "He says what he thinks, is very articulate. This guy is going to be a heck of a coach, maybe a manager someday. He's that impressive."

Crawford said, more than talking, he just watches. He does so from up close, as he and Floyd have neighboring lockers and are in the same batting practice group. Though Maddon said the pairing wasn't deliberate, he's not surprised about Floyd's impact on Crawford and the other outfielders. If Maddon calls closer Troy Percival the clubhouse maitre d', then the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Floyd is more the benevolent bouncer.

"He's gonna police it, but he does it with the real bedside manner," Maddon said.

When his playing career is put to bed, Floyd plans to follow his other passion (bowling, he has rolled a high game of 280), potentially opening his own alley.

"If my body holds up, I might be able to get in another season," said Floyd, who signed a one-year deal plus a club option in December. "If it doesn't, I'll be coming here to camp to see these boys in spring training."

Will he buy a ticket?

"I'm not paying for a ticket," Floyd said with a grin. "Now that I've built that relationship, it's something where I can always visit."

Like any big brother would.

Joe Smith can be reached at joe[email protected]s.com.

Cliff Floyd is Rays' been-there guy 03/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 10:58pm]
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