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CRISP, NOT TOAST
CRISP, NOT TOAST
Art George-Special to BASN
Coco Crisp has been proving that his career is not toast, at age 36 and his fifteenth Major League Baseball season. Acquired right before the September 1 trading deadline by the then-first-place Cleveland Indians from the last-place Oakland A’s, Crisp has been going coo-coo for Cleveland, bringing snap, crackle, and POP! into the post-season, with the table now set for the World Series. Consider:
• Crisp and Roberto Perez combined to go 5-for-8 with two homers and four RBIs between them to defeat the Detroit Tigers 7-4 as Cleveland clinched the American League Central Division.
• It was Crisp’s two-run homer over Fenway Park’s Green Monster outfield wall that made the winning margin in Cleveland’s 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox to complete a three-game sweep in the American League Division Series.
• Continuing on, Crisp made a sliding catch in the bottom of the seventh inning to end a rally by the Toronto Blue Jays and preserve Cleveland’s 4-2 lead to win a third consecutive game in the American League Championship Series.
• Even in Cleveland’s loss to Toronto in Game 4 of the ALCS, he drew a walk in set up to score his team’s only run.
• In ALCS Game 5, Crisp had an RBI and a home run, plucking the Blue Jays by a final score of 3-0, as Cleveland seeks its first Series crown since 1948.
WEARING CHIEF WAHOO
However, Crisp’s efforts are being made under Cleveland’s controversial “Chief Wahoo” logo, a grinning red-faced caricature of a Native American. A hearing in a Canadian court prior to the team’s appearance in Toronto unsuccessfully sought an injunction against use of the logo and the team’s name, and sought to stop the game and its broadcast unless the logo and name were barred. Lawyers for the Cleveland team and Major League Baseball opposed the injunction.
“Given the demands for completing the League Championship Series in a timely manner, MLB will defend Cleveland’s right to use their name that has been in existence for more than 100 years,” MLB said in a statement. It also said that it “appreciates the concerns” of those who find the name and logo offensive, and “would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation.”
Team management has said it has empathy for those who take issue with the logo and that the team has made some effort to reduce use of it. In January 2014 the team made the block letter “C” its “primary logo,” with Wahoo and the scripted Indians name remaining “secondary” identifiers. Wahoo was replaced by “C” on the team’s batting helmets and usually on its road caps, but remains on uniform sleeves and atop home caps. But in all of the postseason road games in Detroit, Boston, and Toronto above in which Crisp starred, the team’s caps had the Wahoo logo. The team said it has no plans to get rid of Chief Wahoo entirely, which it said is part of the team’s history and legacy. Thus, its use continues into the 2016 postseason.
BACK WHERE HE STARTED
Crisp is back with the team with which he started his baseball career in 2002, and reunited with manager Terry Francona, under whose leadership he won a World Series with Boston in 2007. Crisp had been with the A’s for seven seasons, and was the only consistent star as the thrifty “Moneyball” A’s yearly developed, leased, or otherwise routinely brought in and shipped out talent. The A’s as recently as 2012 and 2013 finished first in their division, but never built for a championship. This season, the A’s were 26 games out of first place, their worst finish in 23 years.
An odd series of circumstances brought Crisp back to Cleveland. The team needed a replacement for centerfielder Abraham Almonte, who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, served an 80-game suspension before returning to the team, but was barred from postseason play as part of his penalty. Leftfielder Michael Brantley would also be absent, having played only 11 games before leaving for the season with a recurring shoulder injury.
Crisp had played both center and left for the A’s. He had an $11 million contract with Oakland, but was unhappy in the belief that the A’s restricted his playing time so that he would not be in enough games to trigger a $13 million option for 2017. He had missed most of 2015 with a neck injury suffered in 2014 when crashing into an outfield wall on a play, but returned in surprisingly good health for 2016. He had been envisioned as a platoon player and mentor for new players, but performed better than expected.
He was not seeing retirement, and hoped for that 2017 contract. Management was stuck between playing him as his performance would dictate and paying him in the future, or benching the fan favorite to avoid future costs and to preview younger talent.
Crisp’s batting average at the time of the trade was a modest .235, but his other numbers were more effective: he had 24 doubles, four triples, 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 102 games. He had seven stolen bases on the year. He had four 3-hit days, and two more in which he reached base four times, via two hits and two walks. He was hitting .345 with runners on base and had the highest average in the both leagues with runners in scoring position.
TRADING FROM LAST TO FIRST
Cleveland came calling. Crisp offered switch-hitting, speed, clutch numbers, good attitude, and postseason experience. He has been involved in 31 postseason games across five seasons, hitting .282 with one home run and eight RBIs. He is currently 10th among active major league players with 306 steals. His ability to turn games around, hitting for multiple bases, hitting with runners on base and in scoring position, and even stealing, becomes most valuable in the shortened postseason play where a spot-up performance in a few games and a few at-bats can make all the difference.
The trade avoided a sour end to the season for Crisp and the A’s, and propelled Crisp and Cleveland into October. Crisp had the opportunity to go immediately from the cellar to a contender, to a manager he had won with, and a ballpark he had called home Oakland was able to avoid a disruption among players and fans over records, business, ethics, and loyalties.
For Cleveland and for Crisp, the future is now. In his 20 games with Cleveland to end the regular season, he had two home runs, three doubles, eight RBIs, nine walks, and three stolen bases, all while batting only .208. In his first game back, he had three hits.
Cleveland got a deal: a veteran player, a good clubhouse presence, a clutch performer, almost for free in baseball terms. The A’s paid much of the approximately $2 million left on Crisp’s 2016 contract, sending over about $1.6 million cash with Crisp, taking back a veteran minor league pitcher, and sparing further agony over the option year.
Cleveland was clear with Crisp before the swap that he would not get sufficient playing time for that $13 million contract option to vest, but the tradeoff was a chance for a championship, and free agency after the season. As a player with ten years in the major leagues and at least five years with one team, he could have vetoed the trade, but did not. A year after missing most of a season, and in a season spent mostly with a last place team, he now is headed for the World Series.
“AS IT SHOULD BE”
Crisp never reached the playoffs in his first four years with Cleveland. The 2005 team dropped six of its last seven to fall just short of a wild-card berth. Oakland got into the post-season but never advanced past a division series in the years Crisp was there. 2007 brought the World Series win with Boston; the next year Boston lost the ALCS.
When his younger teammates ask him for advice on how to handle the stress of the postseason, Crisp tells them one word: “breathe.”
“I think that’s the easiest thing to do in life, is just to breathe,” said Crisp. “You wake up breathing. You go to sleep breathing. When the postseason comes you tend to tighten up a little bit and your breathing gets off. I think one of the things that calms you is to make sure you focus on that. It helps you relax.”
On his return to Cleveland, he stayed at the same downtown Hyatt Regency hotel that he had stayed in as a young player. He recalled that back then, every day as he left the hotel for the ballpark, a hotel employee would always hold the door open for him and say “As it should be.”
Crisp never knew how to respond to the phrase, which remained a mystery to him. When he returned to the hotel after rejoining his old team, he searched for the man, but couldn’t find him. “I was hoping that he was there,” Crisp said. “I wanted to know what he was saying nowadays. I miss that guy.”
However, as Crisp reflected back on his long career, he considered the phrase anew.
“Being older, thinking about it, I can make some sense out of it,” Crisp said. “It’s just, I’m here and this is where [I'm] supposed to be. This is exactly what’s supposed to be going on, going down.
“Everything is how it should be.”