Rays left fielder
For the record, the two tried to settle this once. It was a hot afternoon 15 years ago, at a baseball field at Smokey Jasper Park in Humble, Texas. Crawford and Bourn were teammates on the Mt. Zion Angels Little League team -- a perennial state champion, as you might expect. Bourn was the leadoff hitter; Crawford, a year older, hit third. They were close friends ("Carl came over to my house almost every day in the summers," Bourn said), but they also competed in everything: baseball, basketball, video games, ping-pong. One afternoon before practice they decided to settle who was the faster runner. "It was 70 yards," Bourn said. "We were neck and neck. I thought I had a chance. Then, the last 10 yards, he pulled away." Bourn added, "We haven't raced since."
The man who taught baseball's top two burners how to run the bases was
Once, to prepare for a game against a hard thrower, Ray took his team to the local batting cage, where he was told by the attendant that he couldn't use the 85 mph machine. "He said the kids were too young," Bourn said, "but I said, give one of my kids a chance, and if he can't hit, then we'll go home." Little Carl, then 11, stepped into the cage, grabbed a bat, and smacked all 15 pitches he saw. Michael went next and hit 14 of 15 balls. "We got the cage for as long as we wanted," Ray said.
Ray Bourn still lives with his wife in Humble, where he watches his son play in nearby Houston. After an uneven first three seasons in the majors, Michael, who's having a career year at 26, has emerged as a vital table-setter for the surprising Astros. Ray also follows his old No. 3 hitter with a great deal of pride. "It was very clear early on Carl had tremendous talent," Ray said. "I just tried to keep pushing him." When Crawford was 13, his father thought Carl should quit baseball to focus on football. Ray visited the Crawford house in Houston's Fifth Ward. "I told Carl's father that would be a tremendous mistake," Ray said.
Crawford, of course, has bloomed into one of baseball's best all-around outfielders (that he hasn't won a Gold Glove is a true travesty) and is having the finest year of his oddly underrated career (according to baseball-reference.com, he is most statistically similar to
But here he is now, terrorizing teams on the basepaths, trying to lead the Rays to another October appearance. As for the great debate, Crawford says he's ready to settle the matter (again) with his old friend. "You can invite Michael, in fact, you can invite all the other guys in the discussion," he said. "We'll race before an All-Star game one of these years. I'll take my chances."