Tampa Bay moves farther from The Golden Boys

by Gary Shelton on June 7, 2016 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

The Golden Boys are leaving us now, entering into the golden years. Can someone make them turn back?

One by one, time has brought them to their knees. It has slowed them down, and it has made them old, and it has watched them go from stardom to contributors to hangers-on. And if they are getting old, well, what are we to make of ourselves.

The Los Angeles Dodgers designated Carl Crawford for assignment Sunday. That's a nice way of saying that they will you pay you millions to stay away from their dugout. That is to say that everything that made Crawford a special player has been stripped away.

The truth is that Crawford never should have left Tampa. This was about the size market that suited his personality. In Boston and Los Angeles, Crawford's game withered. He never played more than 130

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games, never had more than 129 hits. He leaves baseball as a part-time player, as ordinary every day but payday.

If he had stayed, he would still be recognized as the best player who ever played here. But millions awaited. Who can blame him for going to the bank?

It isn't just Crawford's fault. It's the passage of time. The calendar is undefeated. No one lasts forever. Sliders get meaner and fastballs get faster and the game makes you look silly.

Remember the greatness that littered the Bucs of 2002, Tampa Bay's first great team. It has been nine years since Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and John Lynch were done, eight since Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn and Brad Johnson were finished. The problem with the Bucs, of course, is that there were no great players coming into the franchise to offset the greatness lost. Oh, there was Aqib Talib. You can tell him by the fresh bullet wound in his leg.

Two years later, a young, talented Tampa Bay Lightning team won the Stanley Cup. And time has shredded those guys.

Marty St. Louis was done a year ago. Vinny Lecavaier just retired. Dan Boyle looks as if he's headed that way. The Red Wings just turned loose of Brad Richards. And so on.

Nik Khabibulin was done two years ago. Ruslan Fedotenko was done three years.

Time was, they looked like they might skate forever. That was the thing that all three teams had in common. It seemed like success would last a while. I thought the Bucs should have won another one. I thought the Rays should have dome close. I thought the Lightning would have at least played for it if not for the strike.

Four years after that, the Rays played for the World Series. But that team, too, is showing its age. Crawford was designated for assignment. James Shields just got traded because the Padres decided his production didn't match his paycheck. Matt Garza was done a year ago. Carlos Pena was done two years ago. David Price and Ben Zobrist outgrew the payroll.

It was such a great time in Tampa Bay. Everyone was good, and everyone was fun. The area has never seen a run quite like it.

Think about it. All three franchises could have been called the worst in professional sports at one time. They went through the seasons with an obligatory all-star here or there.

But from 2002-2008, the Lightning had nine all-stars.

From 2007-2013, the Rays had 19 all-stars.

From 1997-2003, the Bucs had 45 Pro Bowl players.

We had Ronde's interception return against the Eagles, and we had St. Louis' goal against Calgary, and we had Evan Longoria in game 163. We had Joe Jurevicius' reception and David Andreychuk's leadership and Matt Garza's no-hitter. We had Crawford's catch in the all-star game and Lecavalier's hat tricks and the buddy team of Sapp and Brooks.

Ask yourself: How many of each team's top 10 players came from that era? With the Bucs, you can say four. Maybe five. With the Lightning, it was the same. With the Rays, ditto. These were the teams, and the players, who shape a fan base.

Yet, they were scattered to the wind. Sapp was a Raider and Lynch was a Bronco and St. Louis was a Ranger and LeCavalier was a King. Crawford was a Dodger and Shields a White Sox and Pena a Ranger. They were ours, but not for long enough.

It would be great if we could see it again.

Is that asking too much?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Howard Powders June 7, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Oh no! That’s just what I was going to ask for Ask Gary! Don’t you think Carl Crawford should have simply remained in the low pressure environment of Tampa Bay? New York, Boston and LA are too high pressure for many athletes to thrive there.

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Cecil DeBald June 7, 2016 at 8:47 am

One of the joys, and sorrows, of sport is watching the young stars become great and then, paraphrasing General MacArthur, having to watch them fade away. I would be great if we could see them again, Gary. It’s the only thing that makes sports worth watching, the kids that give their all to the game, to grow up to be men and women that give their all, until there is nothing more to give. I dearly hope the Rays honor Carl Crawford, he was magnificent.

Cecil

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