ST. PETERSBURG — The invitation, the acknowledgments and the honor of being inducted into the Rays’ Hall of Fame on Saturday were very much appreciated.
The tributes from former teammates playing on the video board during the pre-game ceremony got Carl Crawford somewhat choked up.
But in later recounting the highlights of his nine-year career in Tampa Bay, which spanned the transformation from lowly Devil Rays to contending Rays, Crawford admitted to some unfinished business.
On May 3, 2009, in one of the best individual games in Rays history, Crawford was on base five times (four hits and a walk), drove in one run, scored two and, most notably, stole six bases, tying three others for a major-league record that still stands. But Crawford didn’t know that he had made history when he swiped second with two outs in the eighth versus Boston.
“I still have to live with that one to this day because I was standing on second base and had a chance to break the record,” Crawford said Saturday. “Me not looking up at the scoreboard and realizing that I had a chance to break it kind of left it stuck right there.”
Crawford, 42, had few other regrets during his time with the Rays, as he developed from a 1999 second-round pick into their first homegrown star. He made a team high-matching four All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove, led the American League in triples and steals four times each, established franchise highs in hits, batting average, steals, triples and more.
In receiving his Hall of Fame jacket and custom plate from principal owner Stuart Sternberg, Crawford said how appreciative he was to be inducted, and thanked people who helped him, from youth league coaches to Rays staff and teammates to the fans.
He got emotional hearing the praise from former teammates Rocco Baldelli, Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Evan Longoria and James Shields, and he was excited to see BJ Upton on the field at the Trop. He enjoyed throwing the first pitch to his son Justin, a promising Phillies prospect.
Sternberg had referred to Crawford as “the linchpin between the Devil Rays and the Rays and all the success we’ve had,” and called him “the third member, and the most deserving member” of the Hall, which launched his year with prior inductions of Don Zimmer and Wade Boggs.
Upton said Crawford deserved to be the first homegrown player in the Hall.
“He should be the first guy,” Upton said. “He’s the guy that was here the longest, that wore the green (Devil Rays jerseys), that stuck it out and went through it all. So for me, there’s not a better guy to get it.”
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Crawford said his success was the product of hard work and determination, but also noted the team effort under manager Joe Maddon, and the pride he had in being part of the progression to annual contenders, which they still are.
“We were all young at the same time, and just kind of like we all meshed at the same time,” Crawford said. “We had the same goals, had the same fire. We all wanted to prove ourselves, know what I’m saying? And it just came together.”
His highlight, he said, was the same one as many others, when Akinori Iwamura touched second base to clinch the 2008 ALCS and send the Rays to their first World Series.
“You saw me jumping on top of the pile,” he said. “That’s like one of the most iconic, memorable moments.”
Crawford left the Rays as a free agent after 2010, signing a seven-year, $142 million deal with Boston that didn’t work out for either party, as less than two years later he was traded to the Dodgers. He is quite appreciative of his time in Tampa Bay.
“I had a great time here,” he said. “I was here for nine years. Wish I could’ve stayed longer, but I had to go, you know, business is business. But the time I had here, everybody knows we had a wonderful time.”
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