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Bay Area bids DJ Craw adieu

Our shortstop.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is never scripted. Sometimes it tricks you into feeling some heavy-hand of fate, the structured narrative culminating in a man-meeting-moment type climax. In what will most certainly be his last appearance as a Giants (potentially his last professional game), Crawford didn’t get his Hollywood ending. Fans waved signs, wrapped their heads in Lou Seal bandanas, oiled down their curls so they shone in the Californian sun and rose to their feet in appreciation of their shortstop, batting at the top of the order for only the second time in his career—but no obvious magic followed.

Bo Miller fanned him on four pitches in the 1st and ended the 3rd unable to check his swing on a curveball in the dirt. In the 6th, down 5-1, Crawford flew out to left, and his only play in the field was collecting a pop up off the bat of Max Muncy behind the mound in the 7th. There was no backhand pick in the 5.5 hole, or charging onto the grass on a slow hopper before bulleting a perfectly timed throw to first, or daisy-cutter up the middle to wrangle, or double-play to turn. Will Smith led off the 6th with a 100 mile per hour single towards left that Crawford made a bid for but came up empty. His last act on a baseball diamond was rolling a routine grounder to short for a career-ending 6-3 putout. Poetic—maybe, a near rhyme—but hardly cinematic.

But nothing fits Brandon Crawford better than “hardly cinematic”, and I mean that as the greatest compliment. Hollywood kind of sucks. It’s obsessed with itself, entitled, and has the subtlety of Dave Roberts blaming a Dodger loss on the wind. The anti-thesis of blockbuster, Crawford’s whole career has been in pursuit of understatement, shunning the limelight with wry smirks and shrugs.

His first career hit—an off-brand grand slam in Milwaukee—he clapped his hands once as it cleared the wall in right-center then lowered his eyes as he rounded the bases until he touched home plate.

Probably the loudest thing he did on the diamond was his grand slam against Pittsburgh’s Edison Volquez in the 2014 Wild Card game. I had never heard a crowd go silent as fast—like muting a TV—but when Crawford rounded first there wasn’t even a self-congratulating hand-clap this time, nor a gimmicky trot or excessive time spent bashing his forearms into his teammates; he just kept his head down, touched home plate and dipped back down into the dugout.

In maybe the most important defensive play in San Francisco baseball history, Craw stayed in the shadows as Joe Panik stretched across the limelight—covering the bag, taking the slightly wide feed before hurrying the throw onto first to nab Eric Hosmer. His record-setting 7-hit night in Miami came on the back of 5 singles and was celebrated with a mild hi-five from the first base coach as he handed him his ankle-guard. The lefty is 7th on the franchise list with only 4 drives into McCovey Cove—out-splashed by the even-keeled and less-tenured likes of Denard Span, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Mike Yastrzemski.

His favorite celebrations with teammates: a quick dab, burying his face in the crook of his arm, or a gentle touch of the pinkies. The two ejections of his career came 4 seasons apart. His last one in 2022 came with his back-turned to the third base umpire after a conversation between innings that, from a distance, looked like two older gentlemen discussing that day’s Wordle puzzle.

Even when present through some of the greatest seasons in Giants history, the shortstop never had the iconic Buster Hug, or Bumgarner snot-rocket, or crazy-eyed, Labrador-pep of Pence or Belt’s cheeky Captain’s Crew—and maybe to a fault. He was never a spark or vocal leader. He prided himself on his work in the field, hoping his glove would talk for him, and was often out-shone and drowned out by a thickening climate of loud and brassy bats.

Overall he was a somewhat streaky hitter with a career OPS of .715 and OPS+ at slightly below average (97). His All-Star seasons were gapped with mediocre ones. He received MVP votes in two different seasons 5 years apart and his 2021 resurgence never garnered the national attention it deserved. A season after that campaign—after setting the franchise record for most games played at shortstop—he was somewhat unceremoniously replaced by a shinier, bigger fish before it went belly-up a week later and was asked to fill-in at the role he had made his own for a decade. He stayed healthy and present until 35 when players are supposed to start wearing down and his body responded accordingly. He never hit more than 24 home runs in a season, cracked the .800 OPS mark only once (2021), never hit above .300 and earned a 3.0+ WAR season four times. His .250 career BA and .319 OBP is right about MLB average since 2011.

Brandon Crawford played in 1,655 games over the last 13 seasons for the San Francisco Giants, patrolling the shortstop dirt for 13, 597 ⅔ innings as well as 1 inning as a right-handed reliever. He won two World Series rings, four Gold Gloves, made three All-Star appearances, and won a Willie Mac Award. After thanking the fans on behalf of the team, he used 34 words to say good-bye, his voice booming out of the PA system for less than 15 seconds.

There will be no Cooperstown plaque or Hollywood movie made about Crawford’s career. His farewell speech had about an ounce of the gravitas of Gehrig’s—but it was from the heart and most importantly, in character. At the end of the day, Crawford’s story didn’t follow a particular arc, or rely on shock or awe, or really try to draw much attention to itself at all. It was just a career: full of ups and downs and a whole lot of day-in and day-out routine. At its core, a local of a kid who never left town. Of course that premise downplays the rarity of what Crawford did, but those kinds of subtleties will go unnoticed and unappreciated outside of the Bay Area. I’m not sure Crawford cares though.

In his final game, there was no Ted Williams homer bidding Hub fans adieu, or even something like Miguel Cabrera fielding the last out of the Tigers season, arms up in triumph as he touched first base, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Nor did it have the trendy tabloid headline of Joey Votto getting ejected in the 1st inning of his own probable farewell.

Just an 0-for-4 game at the plate and uneventful day at short in a 5-2 loss to the Dodgers, with Crawford’s potential heir to the left-side of the infield, Casey Schmitt, homering twice and rookie Kyle Harrison outhitting LA with 3 HBP and 0 knocks allowed through 5 innings.

A changing of the guard has been signaled—there has been no official announcement yet of Crawford’s retirement, but the recognition the fans gave to him and the appreciation he returned with a tip of the cap after being removed in the 9th seems to suggest a conclusion. It feels right: he ended the 2023 season playing in only 94 games—his lowest since his rookie season—with a batting average below .200, an OPS under .600. His fielding metrics were solid as always, but there were certainly moments at short that showed his age and limited range.

No postseason push, or dramatic division chase, no tense October wins or devastating losses, no embarrassing on-field play or brutal injury to signal the end—just an understanding between the player and his team and its fans that it’s time.

For someone with as tuned an internal clock as Crawford, I’m not surprised.