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Peers pick Crawford

Vote of players, coaches and managers sends speedy Rays outfielder to his hometown of Houston for his first All-Star Game.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 5, 2004


MIAMI - Carl Crawford had been playing games for a week, imagining that American League All-Star manager Joe Torre was watching and trying to impress him with each at-bat, thinking so much about the what-ifs involved with making the squad that he was having trouble sleeping.

Turns out, Crawford had nothing to worry about.

The speedy 22-year-old outfielder was elected an All-Star reserve in the vote of players, coaches and managers, the only Devil Ray named to the team Sunday.

"Crawford certainly deserves to be there," Torre told New York writers. "Players were very tuned in to who deserves to be on the All-Star team."

As exciting as it is to make his first All-Star appearance in his hometown of Houston, Crawford also found it rewarding he wasn't chosen only because the Rays had to be represented.

"I just didn't want to be a default player to go," Crawford said. "I wanted to earn my way into the game and I feel like I did that. ... I can definitely help the team. It ain't like I'm just there to be there."

Manager Lou Piniella said Crawford deserved to be chosen - "I told him, "You earned it, son.' " - but was hoping the Rays would have had more than one All-Star, specifically making a case for starter Victor Zambrano.

"I think it's a shame Zambrano wasn't picked for the All-Star team," Piniella said. "He's 9-4, he's won six in a row, he's one of the leaders in strikeouts in the league (tied for fourth with 91) and batting average against (second at .225), he's never made the All-Star team. I thought he deserved it myself. ...

"This organization has been in existence seven years and they've always had one (All-Star); it's like you have one token player from here. This year has been a little different and we do have some kids that have stepped up and done better."

The pitchers that were chosen ahead of Zambrano by Torre and MLB officials were Ted Lilly (the only Blue Jay), Esteban Loaiza (the only White Sox), Joe Nathan (the only Twin) and Yankees middle reliever Tom Gordon.

Zambrano, who next starts Thursday at Yankee Stadium, still could be named to the team if one of the pitchers declined the invitation or is injured. (Oakland's Tim Hudson is on the disabled list but is expected to pitch this week.)

"He's got a chance to win 10 games before the All-Star break," Piniella said. "He can show Torre on Thursday that he's displeased."

Crawford was all smiles before the game, and even more so afterward when he found out he was voted in by the players.

"That means you have respect from the players you play against," he said. "The fans are one thing, but to get voted in by the players, it shows the guys really think a lot about you."

The Rays certainly think a lot of Crawford, the first player they drafted (1999, second round) to make an All-Star team.

"At 22 years old he's establishing himself as one of the truly fine outfielders in the American League," general manager Chuck LaMar said, "and he has a great future."

Piniella said Crawford, who is hitting .316, leads the majors with 38 steals and ranks among the AL leaders in runs (59), hits (103), multihit games (31) and triples (eight), continues to improve.

"He was basically rushed to the big leagues and he's learning to play the game up here at the big-league level," Piniella said. "He's gotten better, I'll tell you that, in a hurry. We've seem him grow since the second half of last year. He's really started to come into his own as a player."

Crawford was hoping he would be selected but was guarding himself against disappointment while trying to deal with the daily calls from friends and relatives speculating on the subject.

"Coming from last year, I didn't see it coming," Crawford said. "I think it's big for me to the make the All-Star team this early in my career. I'm just happy I can do it. ...

"Plus it's at home. I don't know how I pulled this off. It happened and I'm happy with it."

He spent a good part of Sunday afternoon and evening talking about the news and the tremendous excitement of going home an All-Star. Not everything, though, is going to be easy.

"I'm going to have to get a few tickets," he said.

ELECTION DAY

Carl Crawford was elected a reserve to the AL All-Star team in the vote of players, coaches and managers. Because the top three were elected starters by the fans, the next three top vote-getters are named to the team. Carlos Beltran can't play for the AL because he was traded to Houston. A look at the totals, with the selected players in italics:

Player, team Votes

Vladimir Guerrero, Angels# 693

Manny Ramirez, Red Sox# 598

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners# 396

Carlos Beltran* 210

Matt Lawton, Indians 166

Carl Crawford, Rays 147

Gary Sheffield, Yankees 144

Jose Guillen, Angels 144

# - won fan balloting; * - traded to NL Astros. Sheffield was picked ahead of Guillen because he received more first-place votes.