“Home runs, triples, singles ...
Anything he wants to hit, he hits.
I've never seen anything like it.
Anything he wants to do, he does!”
— Sportswriter Max Mercy describing Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” (1984)
You don’t need to be a scout from the majors to know that Dylan Crews is a great talent.
Still, their evaluations reinforce how skilled Crews is. The summary of his ability on MLB.com reads like the way author Bernard Malamud might have described Hobbs in his novel of the same name that inspired the movie.
“Plus-plus hitter with plus power and some evaluators are even more bullish on his bat. He hits the ball as hard and as consistently as any collegian.”
In a program replete with great hitters and great players, Crews is the very best player LSU has ever had. May well be what Hobbs’ character said he wanted to be: “The best there ever was.”
For a program with 18 College World Series appearances and six CWS titles, that is a bold statement. From my personal reckoning, of all the greats the only one who was on Crews’ level was Joey Belle. Belle (who went by Albert in the majors) had power, speed and amazing arm strength. In a fall game against Southern, I once saw him chase down a ball in the right field corner, struggle to pick it out of the infield tarp that was rolled up out there (again, it was a fall game), then throw the Southern player out on one hop at third base with a heat-seeking throw.
Don’t remember the Jaguar who hit that ball, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a baseball player so surprised after a play.
Belle, as troubled as he was talented, is a footnote in LSU baseball annals these days. He’s stayed away from the program over the decades since he left in 1987. Crews may well get all the celebrations and accolades Belle didn’t.
He’s certainly on his way. Going into this weekend’s NCAA super regional with Kentucky, Crews is hitting .432. LSU has kept track of its annual batting champions going back to 1949. The best anyone ever did was Raph Rhymes, who hit .431 in 2012. All told, only four Tigers have ever hit .400 or better: Todd Walker (.400, 1992), Russ Johnson (.410, 1994), Eddy Furniss (.403, 1998) and Rhymes. Crews is virtually certain to become the fifth.
“A good athlete, Crews is showing more speed than in the past, with plus run times out of the batter’s box.”
To be the best you have to do the best, though. That’s the line of demarcation in LSU annals among Walker, Johnson and Furniss, or players such as Belle and Rhymes. The first three led LSU to CWS titles during their times as Tigers. Rhymes — who played from 2011-13, including a trip to the 2013 CWS — did not. Neither did Belle, who played on LSU’s first CWS team in 1986 but was suspended from the team before the Tigers made it back the next year.
When it comes to LSU baseball, too much has been achieved not to use the national championship trophy as the ultimate measuring stick. In the CWS-less year of 2020, NCAA.com picked LSU baseball’s all-time starting nine. Every position player the website’s writer picked won a national title: catcher Brad Cresse, Furniss (first base), Walker (second base), shortstop Brandon Larson, third baseman Nathan Dunn, left fielder Blake Dean, center fielder Mikie Mahtook and right fielder Lyle Mouton.
Great players all, but frankly none of them quite match Crews’ talent. Talent bestowed by the baseball gods. Talent that comes ‘round not every season, but generationally.
“Has improved in center field, showing the ability to track down balls hit over his head. Most scouts are sold that he’ll stick in center at the big-league level.”
To put it in LSU football terms, Crews has Billy Cannon-type talent. Joe Burrow-type talent. The kind of skill that spawns its own mythology. Ability that not only awes at the sight of it, but leads and inspires and lifts up an entire team to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts.
Truly great players, at least with this program, do truly great things. They make the ultimate happen.
It isn’t easy, though. Kentucky will make it tough. The Wildcats don’t have a Crews, or a Paul Skenes, or a Tommy White. But they will hit-and-run, and steal, and take a pitch to the ribs, and try to get under the Tigers’ skin like poison oak.
Baseball, after all, is a game of failure. In the novel “The Natural,” unlike the movie, Hobbs doesn’t come through with the big hit.
What story will Crews write for himself and the Tigers?