Tampa Bay Rays: Who Will Be the Rays' First HOFer, CC, Evan or Someone Else?
When Carl Crawford signed an enormous contract with division rival Boston, the Tampa Bay Rays lost one of it's all-time greatest players. In it's short history, full of consistent losing and doubt (with shades of joy and little success), 'CC' was a nine year force, the Rays true all-star and, so it seemed, the franchise player. Crawford, in the end, will have spent a majority or large chunk of his career with Tampa when all is said and done.
So what if he makes himself Hall of Fame worthy (if he hasn't already) in Boston? Does he go in with the Red Sox cap or will he be the first to enter the hallowed Hall with a big 'T' and 'B' and a sea creature burned into a bronze bust?
Wade Boggs may, technically, be the first Rays player to have entered the Hall but almost everyone (except, it seems, Boggs himself) agrees that he is not in the Hall due to his time in a Rays uni (he is representing the Red Sox in Cooperstown). So, then, if not really Boggs and, let's say, possibly not CC. . .then who? Who will be the first true Tampa Bay Ray to be inducted into the Hall of Fame?
*note: I write primarily, if not completely, about basketball and am completely out of my league with a baseball article. If I make any glaring errors just tell me nicely and I'll fix it or go hide in a corner and cry.
In the Rays' fifth year of existence a 20 year old Carl Crawford made his debut against the Toronto Blue Jays. He went 1 for 4, driving in two runs and scoring one himself. Though the loss his team suffered that day would become par for the course for Crawford for years and years and years, his ability to provide offense would be a continuing trend.
In terms of the Rays franchise it's almost silly how many records CC has. He is the career leader in Games Played (1,235), At Bats (4,992), Runs (765), Hits (1,480), 2B (215), 3B (105), RBI (592), Stolen Bases (409), and Batting Average (.296). And even though he isn't known as a home run hitter, he is still third all-time behind Carlos Pena and Aubrey Huff with 104.
He has set single season batting records for the Rays with 110 runs scored in 2010, 145 singles in 2003, 19 triples in 2004, and 60 stolen bases in 2009. And even adding on to that, Crawford is one of only three players in Rays history to win a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award.
He displayed amazing consistency and dominance in so many areas, the sign of a Hall of Famer for sure, but he did it as the leader of historically awful teams (until 2008 the Rays hadn't won more then 70 games). Does that take away from his excellent numbers and consistent production? I'd say no.
Crawford is only 28 and has plenty of good years ahead of him. And you never know, he may come back to Tampa. Either way, if he ends up spending half his career with Tampa and his numbers look relatively the same in Boston (or elsewhere) as they do here (which would be outstanding for him as he'd pass 3,000 hits and 800 stolen bases) then the argument could be made that he'd a)get into the Hall and b)get in as a Ray.
Some people just have an aura about them and Longoria is one of those guys. Loved by fans at Tropicana Field and almost everywhere else in the country and already a perennial All-Star only three years into his career, Longoria has the look and appearance of a franchise player. So far he is fitting right in in Tampa, looking like the leader alongside former Rays vet Carl Crawford and the streaking, also ex-Ray, Carlos Pena.
It didn't hurt that, with his leadership, even as a rookie, he put the Rays on the positive side of the map for a change by doing just about everything short of winning a championship. The Rays had their first winning season, their first division title, their first playoff series victory (eventually two total), their first American League pennant, and their first Rookie of the Year in 2008, Longo's first year.
But it isn't just personality that is winning the fans over: Longoria can flat out play. Already nearing 500 hits and 100 home runs entering his fourth year (forthcoming) and averaging literally 100 RBIs a year, Longoria, with the Rays at least until 2013, is paving the way for a Hall of Fame career. The big question then is can the Rays keep him.
The Rays are, of course, a small market team. Even after winning a second division title in 2010, the Rays basically pulled a fire sale letting go of all their in demand players that were becoming free agents. Longo's star is already shining and his stats are incredible. . .if the Rays become irrelevant will Longoria leave only six years into his career and get even better elsewhere?
If so then his chances of going into the Hall a Ray are small. But if he becomes the next Carl Crawford of the Rays, playing close to a decade (or more), and keeps the high production, Evan Longoria is the likeliest candidate for Rays Hall of Fame player.
In only his second full season as a pro and a Ray, David Price found himself the ace of the ball club, taking the mound as the pitching leader on a championship contending team. And though the Rays won the AL East for the second time in three years, another World Series' berth was not in the cards. And Price suffered in the playoffs, going 0-2 with a 4.97 ERA.
But even the best go through hard times and despite the playoff setback, Price had a 19 win regular season, got an All-Star selection (his first), and was second in Cy Young voting. The future was and is looking bright for the young man. But does he have it to be not only a leader on the Rays for years to come but a Hall of Famer? Time will tell but with Crawford gone and Longoria a monster free agent in a few years, Price, if he stays, might have the chance to be the franchises' first selection.
His numbers are solid thus far. He was 10-7 in 2009, giving him a career record of 29-13 in the regular season. He pitched all year last year (over 200 innings) and had 86 more strikeouts in '10 then he did in '09. It might be hard to project, number wise, if he would be Hall worthy but a couple more 19 (or more) winning seasons might start the discussion.
Another face of the franchise in it's current state, I'd have to first be sold Upton as a Hall of Famer before I could even think about what cap he'd wear once there. Though showing amazing displays of athleticism and providing some postseason thrills in 2008, Upton has mostly been recognized for the negative aspects of his game more then anything.
Be it issues of effort (which appears to run in the family as Justin Upton has the same things said about him) or odd displays of anger (his bizarre fit with Longo last year sure made people shake their heads) and the surprising dip in his numbers, Upton is talked about more for the bad then the good.
But he has the talent and if he can produce a few (okay, well, a lot) of seasons with the offensive clutch and prowess that he showed in 2008's postseason, Upton might approach, but probably won't make, the Hall of Fame discussion.
Well, let's face it, the career Rays pitcher won't be getting 300 wins or striking out 3,500 batters but Shields, who is constantly fighting for control of the Rays record books with Scott Kazmir, is on pace to have a solid career, already amassing 802 strike outs in 5 seasons. Being a lifetime Ray, with a little luck from the statistical gods (and maybe even some wins, Shields is 56-51 for his career), might, if circumstances become miraculous, get him in as the first Ray.
The New Blood?
The Rays were so bad for so long that they amassed young talent. 2010 was a good year for the Rays as rookies and second/third year talents were playing big time games either because of starter's injuries or because they were that good.
Reid Brignac, in only his third year as a Ray and in his only real full season as a ballplayer, was playing short stop and third base in playoff games and division clinching matches and hitting big time walk off home runs against the likes of the Yankees.
Sean Rodriguez, playing for two years in a limited role in Anaheim, helped drive in runs and hit at a decent .250 clip.
And of course the big surprise was would-be phenom Jeremy Hellickson, the pitcher who came up from the minor leagues and went 4-0 with a solid ERA of 3.47. Now that so many pitchers have left the Rays, Hellickson could be the future (Hall of Fame future????) of the Rays starting rotation.
Maybe the first Rays Hall of Famer hasn't even played for the Rays. He might not even have been born yet. The franchise is still young and is just getting used to actually winning games. The prestigious honor of winning a place in the Hall of Fame is not only a long ways away but also a bit rich at this point. Us Rays fans can certainly think about it, and there are candidates in the past, present, and future, but until the plaque is put up, it's all conjecture.