Rays: Ready to shrug at snubs

When the American League gets around to announcing its All-Star team on Sunday, Carl Crawford swears it will not bother him if he does not hear his name.

Published June 27, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - This time, the bad news will not sneak up on him.

This time, the omission will not hurt.

Carl Crawford is older now, after all, and his soul has been hardened by disappointment. And so when the American League gets around to announcing its All-Star team on Sunday, he swears it will not bother him if he does not hear his name.

After all, Crawford has been burned before.

This time, he says, it will not matter.

"I don't think I deserve to go, " Crawford said Tuesday. "I've had a solid year so far, but I haven't had an All-Star year. I don't think I'll be picked. If I'm not, it won't bother me."

Crawford paused, and he stared ahead.

"That game won't ever bother me again, " he said quietly.

In that moment, in that voice, in those eyes, it was possible to see how badly Crawford was stung by not being selected to last year's All-Star Game. A year later, the scars have not healed.

So why should he care so much now about a game that evidently cared so little about him then?

This is what it is like to be a Devil Ray in the days before All-Stars are designated. In the eyes of those who run the All-Star Game, the Rays have been mostly an afterthought for the past decade. As a franchise, they are that nerdy kid you stick in rightfield to make teams even. Usually, the debate has not been over the Ray that didn't make the team; it's about the one who did.

Crawford was the one who was supposed to change all of that, remember? When he made the All-Star Game in 2004 at the age of 22, he had the look of a player who could make it a habit. Yet, despite hitting .322 at the break last year, Crawford stayed home. In a decision that would have been heard nationally had Crawford played in a bigger city or on a better team, Gary Matthews Jr. went instead.

Crawford hasn't forgiven.

Crawford hasn't forgotten.

"That was tough, " Crawford said. "I was so excited about last year, and I had it taken away from me. I took it personally a little bit. It was like Christmas when you not only didn't get the gift you wanted, you found out there was no Santa Claus.

"After that, I said I won't ever get excited about that game again. It was one of those inside burns that you stay quiet about, but you remember that feeling forever."

Given the pain of a year ago, perhaps Crawford is merely shielding himself from another dose. Given his blunt honesty, perhaps he is acknowledging that he is just short of his standards. Either way, there is a case to be made for him. He is hitting .299, fifth among the outfielders in the top 15 in voting, and his 48 RBIs are sixth. If you acknowledge that the starting outfield will be Vlad Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez and Ichiro Suzuki, Crawford seems to be in a logjam with Torii Hunter, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield for the reserve spots.

Yet, according to the fan voting, Crawford is 14th. He is behind the cartoon that is Sammy Sosa. He is behind J.D. Drew, who is hitting .250. He is behind Coco Crisp, who is hitting .258. He is behind the entire starting outfield of both the Red Sox and the Yankees.

"That's wrong, " Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

"He's been playing in anonymity for a number of years now. As we win more, as we're on national TV more, he will be an All-Star easily. If he was a big-city slicker, his numbers would be enough to get him in."

So what is Crawford to do? Does he grumble about the voting? Does he lament that his team does not play in crucial games? Does he vow to be even better? Crawford will tell you that all three thoughts have occurred to him.

Still, Crawford plays a sport that values power more than speed, and he plays on a team no one notices. If he is going to make All-Star teams, he is going to have to leave no doubt. He is going to have to hit .330, maybe more.

"Sooner or later, people will catch onto what a special player he is, " Rays vice president Andrew Friedman said.

"With the added meaning of the All-Star Game, there are a lot of things Carl can do to help the American League win the game. He can play defense. He can disrupt a game on the basepaths. He can impact a game in a lot of ways."

Another team, one that played into the postseason, and people might recognize that Crawford is one of those beyond-the-numbers players. Another time, when the Rays didn't have quite so many possible All-Stars, his statistics would be plenty. After all, the Rays are the team that sent Lance Carter to the game when he had 13 saves and the team that sent Greg Vaughn when he was hitting .249.

This year, as strange as it might seem to say, the Rays have multiple options. Crawford says he would vote for James Shields, despite Shields' recent slump. You could make a case for Al Reyes or for Carlos Pena. Even with B.J. Upton's recent injury, his numbers stack up well among second basemen.

Then, as always, there is Crawford, who will tell you that he doesn't belong.

"I think that's honorable, " Maddon said, "but I think he does."

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.