Saturday, January 22, 2011

George Crowe, 89, former Negro League player and major league All-Star

George Crowe, former All-Star first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds passed away Tuesday night in Rancho Cordova, Calif. He was 89. 

Crowe was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949 from the Negro Leagues, where he played with the New York Black Yankees. He tore up every classification from a Class-B to Triple-A, posting averages of .354, .353, .339 and .351 between 1949 and 1952 before being called up to the Braves in 1952. Crowe shared time with first baseman Earl Torgeson his rookie year, batting a respectable .258.

During a 2008 interview that I conducted with Crowe, he shared his theory as to why he didn't get more playing time over Torgeson, who batted a lowly .230. 

"When I was in Boston, Earl Torgeson wasn't that great of a player, but he was high on the totem pole of politics," Crowe said. "The manager was his old roommate. Torgeson and Tommy Holmes roomed together for years. Holmes became the manager. Who do you think is going to play?" 

The following season, Crowe was relegated to pinch-hitting duty, as the Braves, who had now moved to Milwaukee, brought in the powerful Joe Adcock to play Crowe's position. Nineteen fifty-four saw Crowe return to Triple-A, where as a member of the Toledo club, he feasted on the pitching of the American Association, slugging 34 home runs with a .334 average. During that winter, Crowe was a member of the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers, which many regard as the best winter league team ever. He shared a lineup that included Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Don Zimmer, Bob Thurman, Bus Clarkson and pitchers Ruben Gomez and "Sad" Sam Jones. They ran away with the Caribbean Series title that year with Crowe solidifying the lineup at first base.

Crowe's undeniable talent allowed him to wrestle the first base position from Adcock in 1955, where he hit 15 home runs and batted .281. Finally receiving a chance to play regularly, Crowe took advantage of the opportunity and figured to be in Milwaukee's plans as they started to build a World Series contender. A week before the 1956 season opener, Crowe was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for "Hurricane" Bob Hazle, who figured prominently in the Braves run to the 1957 title. 

It was with Cincinnati where Crowe, at the age of 36 would have his breakout season. An injury to Ted Kluszewski in 1957 opened the door for Crowe to play full time. Appearing in 133 games, Crowe smashed 31 home runs and drove in 92 runs. That placed him 6th and 8th in the National League respectively in both categories.

In the 2008 interview, he discussed the merits of playing full-time. 

"The regular playing time helped," he said. "Wherever I was, I played everyday. It's not the same. There's nothing like playing everyday. If you can get in there once every two weeks, you might have a good day, but it's another week or ten days before you play again. It's hard to keep a sharp edge."

Sadly, he was the only Cincinnati Red player not selected to the All-Star game as part of the infamous ballot stuffing scandal. He was beat out by the legendary Stan Musial. He would receive a degree of retribution the following season when he was selected as a reserve to the 1958 All-Star team after batting over .300 the first half of the season.  

Crowe would play until 1961, finishing his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, serving as a mentor to younger African-American players such as Bob Gibson and Bill White. At the time of his retirement, he held the MLB record with 14 pinch-hit home runs. 

In addition to his lengthy major league baseball career, Crowe was a standout basketball player. He was the first Indiana Mr. Basketball award winner in 1939. He played professionally for the Harlem based New York Rens and the Los Angeles Red Devils, the latter of which included Jackie Robinson. Crowe remembered Robinson as, "a good basketball player."  

Crowe lived in the Adirondacks until five years ago when he moved to California to be closer to his family. After suffering a stroke in late 2008, Crowe resided in an assisted living facility until his death earlier this week.


5 comments:

  1. Although George Crowe was clearly a great player that missed out on opportunities due to the color barrier and short sightedness, there are a couple of overstated comments in this article. First off, Tommy Holmes was only manager of the Braves for the first 35 games of 1952. Torgeson was coming off of 2 consecutive good seasons (6.4 WAR in 1950 and 4.1 in 1951) and there is no reason to believe that he would lose his job so early in the season regardless of how poorly he was playing. Also, Crowe missed the final 49 games of the year. You would assume it was an injury, but it looks like he was sent to the minors. No clue why as he was playing regularly and outplaying Torgeson by a bit.
    Also, Crowe did not "wrestle" the job away from Adcock in 1955. Adcock broke his arm in 7/31/55 and missed the final 52 games which lead to increased playing time for Crowe.

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  2. Michael -
    Thanks for taking the time to comment on the article. The words about Holmes and Torgeson were from Crowe himself. There could have been a lot of reasons for Crowe being farmed down to the minors his rookie year, including a request to reinforce the Milwaukee club which was going after a Triple-A pennant. I didn't probe why he was sent down.

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  3. I was very sorry George Crowe died as he was one of my favorites as a kid in the fifties. I think it should be pointed out that in our first book together,Tim McCarver credited Crowe, a roving batting instructor for the Cards at the time, for closing his stance and "saving my career" when he was about 20, in the minors without a clue. ND: What is your full name? You mention you interviewed ex players (like Davey Williams) and I'm always thinking, Who is it who interviewed these guys. Let me know. Danny Peary

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  4. Danny -
    Feel free to send me an email via the "E-Mail Me" link on the page to discuss things.

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  5. I got to meet Mr. Crowe in 2010. I was the technition that installed his Comcast cable. I was immediately intrigued by Mr. Crowe. his history and conversation was great.I think I even lost track of time conversing with mr. Crowe about his past and his experience as a Pro baseball player and his crazy experiences being a African American player in that era. I also found it hard to believe that a person with this backround and statue was living in a Senior citizen care facility. I remember Mr. Crowe telling me if I ever was working in the neighborhood feel free to stop by and chat. He een gave me one of his old cards and signed it for me..

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