Carl Crawford’s been rocking a sour face for a minute, so the grin on his mug when he banged two homers to help the Dodgers beat the Braves 4-3 and advance to the National League Championship Series, was not only long overdue but a breath of fresh LA air.
Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly noticed it, because it was a release of frustration and a confident acknowledgement of a journey that took Crawford to the depths of self-doubt and now back to being one of the game’s elite ballers. "The smile on his face when he hit that homer is priceless," Mattingly told the Associated Press.
In true Rickey Henderson fashion, he stunned the Braves and set the tone early by leading off the first inning with a majestic blast into the right-field pavilion. Crawford's leadoff homer was the second in Dodgers postseason history. Current first base coach Davey Lopes, a former player, homered leading off Game 6 of the 1978 World Series. Crawford’s second dinger came in the third and landed deep in the lower right-field seats to give LA a world of confidence and a 2-0 lead.
It’s been a rough couple of years for Crawford. Not financially, because, who can forget the whopping seven-year, $142 million contract he signed with the Red Sox in 2010 after nine years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Gwop like that—the 10th largest deal in MLB history at the time—is enough to even put a smile on a hungry pitbull’s mug.
They say money is the root of all evil and it can especially be true in the pro sports galaxy, where cats get paid to live like kings and fans expect royal performances every game.
The pressure that comes with a mega contract can be suffocating for a player, and no one has a perfect life. So, for every blessing that comes our way, we have to deal with the flip side of that as well. An empire of riches doesn’t guarantee emotional peace or future success, and doesn’t account for other elements that make life hard for a person.
When Crawford hit the jackpot with the Red Sox, the dough was right, but his timing was off. During his two-year stint in Boston Crawford hit .260 (117 for 506) and was mired by injuries, playing in just 31 games in a disastrous 2012 season in which he underwent separate wrist and reconstructive elbow surgeries.
It wasn’t the perennial winning, stable franchise he had come to know when battled them in the AL East over the first decade of his career. Managerial and front office chaos, clubhouse unrest, subpar seasons and inconsistent individual play turned Crawford’s dream deal into a nightmare. His multi-million dollar smile turned into a permanent scowl, and eventually the Red Sox fans and media branded him a malcontent.
Since coming to the Dodgers last summer in a nine-player, blockbuster trade, Crawford can finally chill and enjoy baseball again. There’s less pressure. He says he’s much more comfortable in the LA environment and it reminds him of hometown Houston “without the heat.”
These days, he’s not thinking about the frigid Northeast and cold shoulder treatment of Red Sox Nation.
“I really don’t want to talk about Boston anymore,” the career .292 hitter told nydailynews.com in September. “Especially right now with where we’re at, I’m trying to leave that alone right now.”
Who could blame him? His Boston experience was hot with drama from jump. Shortly after Crawford inked with Boston, it was reported and confirmed by then GM Theo Epstein that before they offered him the contract, the Red Sox had scouts spying on him on and away from the field.
It was a bugged out way to begin a trusting partnership, and Crawford told Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com that he was “creeped out a little bit” and “a little freaked out” to learn of the Red Sox’s surveillance.
Life tends to get weird when you are one of the highest paid people in your profession. It’s not hard to slip into a parallel dimension that traps you and begins to eat away at your sanity. By the time his Red Sox career was over and he was shipped to LA, Crawford was considered a Boston mega-contract bust, who was trying to salvage his career with the Dodgers.
Lingering injuries slowed him down throughout most of this year, but he was able to hit a respectable .283 with six homers and 15 steals in 116 games. A hamstring kept him out of the lineup for more than a month, and he was limited by back problems. Like his Dodgers teammates, however, Crawford rode the wave, eventually got healthy and is saving his grandest performance for the World Series run that Magic Johnson and his “Money Team” envisioned when they purchased the squad and unloaded the vault to construct a serious World Series challenger.
The NL West champions open the next round Friday against the winner of the St. Louis and Pittsburgh clash. Crawford enters his second League Championship Series appearance swinging a mighty stick. In four playoff games, he’s batting .353 with three homers and five RBI. He’s had a dope career and all that’s really left at this point is to add World Series win to the resume.
Even better, if he winds up meeting Boston in the World Series, he’ll get his chance to spit his Meek Mill, “riding through my old hood, but I’m in a new whip. Same old attitude, but I’m on some new sh*t.”
The newest, being that he won’t have to wear a mask when he goes to the bank to cash his funky dividends anymore. He’s finally doing what stars get paid to do—shine. And he’s flashing the smile to match.