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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Carl on the rise
The Rays leftfielder takes only quick peeks into the future. It is dazzlingly bright each time.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 29, 2006
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
As the accolades increase, Carl Crawford's work ethic doesn't change. He arrives at the park early, constantly asks questions and has a wicked workout regimen.
ST. PETERSBURG - Carl Crawford doesn't know.
He'll listen politely as people tell him the impact of his latest accomplishments. He'll ooh and aah at the SportsCenter highlights like everyone else. He'll quietly read what others have to say about the dazzling mix of speed, power and athleticism that have made him - at age 24 - one of the game's most exciting players at the plate, on the bases and in the field.
What the Devil Rays leftfielder doesn't know - and what others who marvel at him now don't either - is how good he can be.
"I don't know, and that's what I'm trying to find out," Crawford said. "I don't want to come across as arrogant or anything like that, so I'm trying to be careful with what I'm saying. But honestly, I think it's just the beginning.
"I really think it's early for me. I know you might say, "Well, I've done this so far,' but I don't know too much about the game. Once this stuff really soaks in and I really understand what's going on and I really learn the things I need to learn, that's when I'll say I'm starting to take that next step. And I think you will see it on the field."
What he has done already has been pretty impressive. Crawford has increased his batting average, home run totals, RBI production and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in each of his four major-league seasons.
He is one of five players since World War II to have 30 doubles, 15 triples and 15 home runs in a season. He ranks among the top seven major-leaguers from 2003-05 in hits, stolen bases and triples.
"The skills that he has and the athleticism that he has are unmatched in all of baseball," Blue Jays centerfielder Vernon Wells said. "He's still so young and so raw and he's still able to dominate this game at times. It's something that only comes along once in a lifetime. He's got the ability to do whatever he wants in this game."
Yankees manager Joe Torre said Crawford reminds him of Lou Brock because of his "sneaky power" and blazing speed. Rays teammate Jonny Gomes describes him as "a five-tool player where you have to worry about all five tools." New manager Joe Maddon shudders when describing how his former Angels team would try to find ways to defend against Crawford.
"Oh man, the sky's the limit with that guy," Twins All-Star centerfielder Torii Hunter said. "He's got all the talent in the world and he's a tremendous athlete. I look at the guy and I see everything."
"It's unlimited what he can do," said former Rays coach Billy Hatcher, now with Cincinnati. "You don't know how good he's going to be, and the scary thing about it is he doesn't know. He just keeps getting better."
Crawford improves as he gets more experience.
But he also works at getting better.
Even with the attention, the accolades (including a 2004 All-Star appearance) and the money (thanks to a six-year contract worth $32-million), Crawford's work ethic has not subsided.
He regularly arrives at the ballpark before all of his teammates and even some of the coaches, spends whatever free time he has in the batting cages, and constantly is asking questions and seeking to learn something. And that's nothing compared to his offseason fitness workouts.
"He's one of the hardest working athletes in the game," said teammate Damon Hollins. "A guy like that, with his talent, to work his butt off - that's why he's got what he's getting."
The coaches who are new to the Rays have been amazed.
"There's isn't anybody here that works harder than that guy," said pitching coach Mike Butcher. "I don't know if he's the first guy here in the morning, but you always see him dressed. He'll go hit soft toss, he'll hit off the tee, he'll shag fly balls in the outfield, and right before the game he'll track every pitcher. You don't see guys who are potential superstars like that."
The coaches who have been with the Rays are hardly surprised.
"He's done it since we had him as a kid," said hitting coach Steve Henderson. "He's always worked hard, and that's a plus to him. He's been an All-Star already and he's still learning and trying to get better. If I was a young kid coming up, I would want to be right next to Carl Crawford all the time learning from him."
Crawford says he doesn't know any other way. Growing up on the rough side of Houston, watching his father, Steve Burns, and grandfather, Roy Burns, work ridiculously long hours running Burns B-B-Q restaurant, then working there himself, that's just how it was.
"My family just has this natural thing where they work extremely hard, and I guess that kind of trickled down to me," Crawford said. "I think if I was working at a convenience store my work ethic would still be hard."
Because Crawford didn't play much baseball growing up, starring instead in football and basketball, he is still learning nuances of the game that may seem natural to others. And he can't get better quickly enough.
"My game is just so premature right now. I feel the harder I work the quicker it will come out, because I'm trying to rush it out," Crawford said.
"This whole time I've been just playing on ability. I haven't put any thought process into anything I've done so far. With the guys they've brought in like Jimy (Williams), and I can talk to (Don Zimmer) and Joe is such a smart man, I just feel I'm about to learn so much more stuff in the coming years.
"And you put that mental aspect with my physical ability and I feel it's just another step that I can take toward becoming that premier player that I'm trying to get to be."
As eye-catching as Crawford's offensive totals can be, he has other barometers in mind.
He works so hard on his defense that he says a Gold Glove would top a batting title or a third stolen base championship. (The Fielding Bible, a new book that attempts to quantify defense based on above-average plays, ranks him the game's top leftfielder over 2003-05).
And despite the skills to hit .300, steal 50 bases, lead the league with 19 triples in 2004 and 15 in 2005, score 100 runs, and approach 20 homers and 100 RBIs, he says his goals are broader.
"I really want to be one of those people who gets the clutch hits when the team really needs them and makes that great catch when we need that third out," Crawford said.
"You've got guys who put up big numbers - I'm not going to say any names or nothing - but they put up big numbers and that's what they do, more like a sideshow. Then you've got guys who put up numbers then deliver when the team really needs them. Personally, I want to be the guy that puts up numbers when the team really needs them."
Crawford wants to win, he wants to get paid, he want to be cool.
But he also wants to be noticed.
For much of his time with the Rays, he has been overshadowed. He was drafted a round behind Josh Hamilton in 1999, paired in the same outfield with Rocco Baldelli in 2003, subject to the hype that is preceding Delmon Young's arrival later this season.
If Crawford did in a big market such as New York or Boston what he has done in Tampa Bay, or if he played on a team that was more successful than the Rays, he'd probably be a nationally known star by now. But, citing Carlos Beltran's emergence after he left Kansas City and Wells' relative obscurity in Toronto, Crawford figures that will come.
For now, he's got a more pressing question to answer.
"As long as I know I've tried everything and as long as I know I've done everything I can possibly do, and if this is the best I can be, then I can live with that," he said. "But I can't live with not putting everything into it and seeing what happens."
Among Carl Crawford's more impressive accomplishments:
One of four players in history to total at least 194 hits, 46 SBs, 81 RBIs and 15 HRs in a season.
One of seven active players to increase to increase average, HRs and RBIs in first three full-time seasons.
Fifth player since World War II to total 30 doubles, 15 HRs and 15 triples in a season.
Fifth player ever to have 500 hits and 150 steals by his 24th birthday.
Most triples (34) in back-to-back seasons in 60 years.
One of five players to reach double figures in doubles, triples and homers in 2005.