March 26, 2004
Bubba the Bomber
By Peter Abraham
Bubba Crosby and Jason Romano were sitting on the couch in the Dodgers' clubhouse at the Vet in Philadelphia, a couple of rookie reserves staring up at the clock and kidding each other while they waited for it to strike 4 - the trading deadline on July 31, 2003.
Now it was 3:52. Romano elbowed Crosby and said, "You're going to get traded to New York." And they went back and forth, playfully trading names of prospective teams.
Now they were staring up, and it was 3:55 and 40 seconds. Suddenly, Crosby felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked at Romano, and their mouths dropped. Because for all the jokes, they weren't expecting anything to happen this close to the witching hour.
Crosby turned around, and there was third-base coach Glenn Hoffman with a message from manager Jim Tracy.
"Trace wants to see you," Hoffman said.
Then the outfielder found out his destination. The joke was no joke - New York. The Yankees wanted to dump Robin Ventura and his salary since they had just acquired Aaron Boone that day to replace him at third, so they dealt him to L.A. for two prospects, Crosby and hard-throwing righty reliever Scott Proctor.
"My first reaction was kind of upset," Crosby said. "I felt like I was leaving an organization where I struggled to get an opportunity to show what I could do there to come to an even more difficult organization to get an opportunity as a young ballplayer."
Still, he came to accept it. After batting .302 in 16 games at Class AAA Columbus before a sprained thumb ended his year, Crosby reported to Florida in February just hoping for a chance to open some eyes, be it the Yankees' or ones belonging to scouts from other teams. And the 27-year-old Texan has put on a show for all of them, clearly the most impressive rookie in Tampa.
Of course, there are plenty of spring phenoms who don't carry it over to the regular season. But Crosby's numbers sure look good.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound lefty hitter brought a 17-game .385 average with two homers and 11 RBI on board Thursday for the 17-hour flight to Japan where the Yankees play two exhibitions before opening against the Devil Rays at the Tokyo Dome on Tuesday.
Between the hitting, the running, the catches and the uniform that always needs a good wash to get the dirt out, the gritty, speedy Crosby has the Yankees debating whether to carry him as a bench player at the start despite his limited major-league experience, especially if Bernie Williams has to begin on the DL, or play him regularly at Columbus and maybe recall him later.
"Crosby certainly opened a lot of eyes here in camp," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He's pushed himself into consideration."
"He's very aggressive on the basepaths, aggressive in the outfield," manager Joe Torre said. "He has the ability to hit to both fields. He seems to be pretty durable. Left-handers don't seem to bother him. He's a big-league player."
Ask Crosby, who can play left, center or right, about the Yankees versus Columbus, and it's no debate for him at all, even with Hideki Matsui, Kenny Lofton/Williams and Gary Sheffield blocking his path.
"I think being in the big leagues with this team is better than playing every day (in the minors)," he said.
Richard Stephen Crosby was born and raised in the Houston area. He owes "Bubba" to his sister.
"Where I'm from, there are a lot of Bubbas," he said. "I got my nickname because my sister was a year and three months older than I was, and she had just started to talk when I was born, and she couldn't say 'brother.'"
After a .394-hitting, All-America junior year at Rice, Crosby went in the first round to the Dodgers. He finally got called up in late May last year from Class AAA Las Vegas. But he would get into just nine games and go only 1 for 12 over two stints. The .285 lifetime hitter in the minors was still leading the Pacific Coast League at .361 at the time of the trade following his second recall eight days earlier. Now he feels ready for the big time.
"I believe I've proved everything I can prove as far as what I can bring to the table," Crosby said. "I guess I could hit more home runs, but that's really not my style of game. So as far as what I can contribute, I think I've pretty much done that at the Triple-A level."